In August 2009, Russian media reported that their country was planning to take a radical step, and buy a French BPC-210 Mistral Class amphibious assault ship (BPC/LHD) by the end of 2009. The outlet quoted the Chief of the Russian General Staff, Gen. Nikolai Makarov, who said that: “We are negotiating the purchase of one ship at present, and later planning to acquire 3-4 ships [of the same class] to be jointly built in Russia.” That plan eventually came true, with a contract for 2 ships, and a possible follow-on for 2 more.
France currently operates 3 Mistral Class LHDs, after buying a 3rd using economic stimulus funds. Unlike other LHD designs, the Mistral Class can’t operate fixed wing aircraft, and some observers in Russia and elsewhere classify at as an LHA. Regardless, it’s an important tool of power projection. Mistral Class ships can carry and deploy up to 16 helicopters, including attack helicopters like France’s Tiger or Russia’s Ka-50/52. Their main punch revolves around 4 landing barges or 2 medium hovercraft, however, which deliver armored vehicles, tanks, and soldiers to shore. Vessels of this class are equipped with a 69-bed hospital, and could be used as amphibious command ships.
Russia wants that kind of versatility – even as her neighbors fear it. After Russia’s annexation of Ukraine and the continued covert war in Eastern Ukraine, this contract became a major point of contention between Russia and NATO members.