No hard feelings about Napoleon, OK?
That seems to be the sentiment between Russia and France these days. First, in the steel industry, we saw Francophile Arcelor turn to Russia's Severstal as a potential white knight (pun unintended, for once) to save it from MittalSteel's
More recently, Russia's Vneshtorgbank returned the gesture when it bought a 5% stake in European Aeronautic, Defense, & Space (EADS) -- in which France and DaimlerChrysler
This week, the Franco-Russo-philia got even stronger, as EADS signed a deal with yet another Russian firm -- this time Irkut, a manufacturer of both civilian and military aircraft, including the SU-30 fighter jet. The plan is for EADS and Irkut to form a joint venture for the purpose of converting Airbus A320 passenger airliners into freight carriers. Once up and running (the target date is 2010), the joint venture plans to convert as many as 30 aircraft per year.
How is an isolated contract between a French company and a Russian one, neither of which trades on a U.S. stock exchange, important to U.S. investors? It probably wouldn't be, except that this is no isolated contract. This isn't the first time that EADS and Irkut have hooked up, you see. In August of last year, the two got together and agreed that EADS would purchase a 10% stake in Irkut. Moreover, they planned to -- no word on whether they did -- set up another joint venture named EADS IRKUT Seaplane SAS to market Irkut's Be-200 firefighting aircraft sometime before the end of last year.
(That, incidentally, deserves a column all its own. By all accounts, the Be-200 is a remarkable firefighting tool -- it's a seaplane that can scoop up 12 tons of sea or lake water in 17 seconds, fly it to a forest fire, and dump it. As such, the Be-200 poses a threat to similar "scoop" planes manufactured by Canada's Bombardier.)
So the importance of yesterday's deal to U.S. investors is this: It's part of a continuing pattern of cooperation between France's beleaguered aerospace giant and a resurgent Russia -- swimming in petro-Rubles, petulant over U.S. reluctance to sign off on its World Trade Organization entry, and looking for ways to lash out at American companies-slash-EADS rivals like Boeing
For more pieces of the puzzle, read: