From the Washington Times: France is soon expected to become the first Western European NATO member to sell advanced military equipment to Russia, amid an aggressive search by Moscow for Western arms suppliers that has divided the country’s elite, diplomats and defense analysts say.

The likely deal for at least one Mistral-class amphibious ship for the Russian navy is being watched closely in Washington — not only because of European willingness to arm NATO’s former archenemy, but also because of Moscow’s tacit acknowledgment of the poor state of its own military industry.

Intelligence Online, a Paris-based Web site with good sources in the French government, reported Friday that President Nicolas Sarkozy “has agreed to allow Mistral-class amphibious ships to be sold to the Russian navy.” It quoted “sources at the Elysees Palace’ as saying that the decision ‘will be announced in March, when [Russian President] Dmitry Medvedev visits Paris.”

Emmanuel Lenain, a spokesman for the French Embassy in Washington, said that “discussions are going on, but no formal decision has been made yet.” (photo: AFP)