France is negotiating to sell a high-tech warship to Russia, which would mark the first time that a NATO nation — and a founding member at that — sold arms to the country since the fall of the Soviet Union, which the treaty organization was created to oppose.
The Russians are anxiously looking to buy one of France’s Mistral class helicopter carriers, a rapid-deployment attack ship that some fear could be used against countries like Georgia and Ukraine.
SLIDESHOW: French Warship 'Mistral'
"I confirm that we are currently examining an official request from the Russian government for the purchase of a ship of this class," French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said Friday at news conference following a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
The possible deal has Georgian officials concerned, as the 21,300-ton amphibious assault ship can also carry personnel, armored cars and tanks thousands of miles and would help modernize Russian naval equipment exposed as outdated in its war with Georgia last year, Reuters reported.
"We strongly oppose the sale of such ship to Russia," Nika Laliashvili of the Georgian parliament's defense affairs committee told The Associated Press. "It poses a serious danger to Georgia."
Since the war, Russia has declared the Georgian territory of Abkhazia an independent nation and sent thousands of troops there. Abkhazia has a coastline along the Black Sea that is next to Russia's coast.
Asked if Russia would used the ship against Georgia, Putin said only that it would use warships where needed, Reuters reported.
Two senior U.S. officials told Fox News the potential sale is not very alarming.
"We would expect France keep its NATO allies in close consultation concerning any potential sale," but overall "this ship wouldn't give the Russians more of an advantage", one official said.
Other NATO members expressed more concern at France's openness to selling Russia weaponry that could be used against NATO forces or allies.
"If we look at the level of different tensions, for example, on the Black Sea, I don't think that theoretically, at least, it is good idea to add some military equipment or military technologies for the Black Sea," Estonian foreign minister Urmas Paet said at a news conference.
"We have sent a request to the French foreign ministry to clarify the situation — what's the purpose? What's the ammunition?" Lithuanian foreign minister Vygaudas Usackas said.
Russian shipbuilders have also opposed the Mistral deal, saying the government should invest in domestic production instead.
Russia has only one Soviet-built aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, which is much smaller than the U.S. aircraft carriers and has been plagued by mechanical problems and accidents.
The country's once-mighty navy faces further dramatic decline after 2015, when most Soviet-built ships will have to be mothballed, a retired admiral was quoted as saying Friday.
The Navy chief, Adm. Vladimir Vysotsky, has said a ship like Mistral would have allowed the Russian navy to mount a much more efficient operation in the Black Sea during the Russia-Georgia war. He said the French ship would take just 40 minutes to do the job that the Russian Black Sea Fleet vessels did in 26 hours, apparently referring to amphibious landing operations.
But Navy officials have also argued that producing Mistral-class ships in Russia, rather than buying them from other countries, would help modernize Russia's aging industries.
Despite concerns over the negotiations, Fillon said "France is open to cooperation with Russia, including in defense," adding that it makes no sense to discuss including Russia in a joint European economy then fall back on "outdated reflexes," Reuters reported.
The Mistral, estimated to cost roughly $450 million to $500 million, could become Russia's biggest international arms purchase.
Putin said Russia had not made a final decision on the deal.
*The Associated Press, Reuters and Fox News' Justin Fishel and Steve Centanni contributed to this report.