The Russian Alternative
Posted by shadmia on June 8, 2007
President Bush and President Putin have been waging a war of words over the US plan to put in place a defensive missile program in Poland and the Czech Republic (two former Soviet block countries). President Putin strongly opposes this seeing it as a threat to Russian security and a dangerous tilt in the balance of power in NATO’s favor. President Bush sees it as necessary to counter the possible development of nuclear weapons by Iran which might be aimed at Europe.
Both nations seemed to be at an impasse until a proposal was made by Putin at the G8 conference being attended by both Presidents. The Putin proposal calls for the missile defense system to be placed in Azerbaijan, a country much friendlier to Russia than either Poland or the Czech Republic. He also said the location was a much better one for the defense of Europe from all missile threats coming from Asia.
“The first proposal is to use the Gabala radar station in Azerbaijan,” said Putin. Putin said that if the missile defense system were located in Azerbaijan it would reach the whole of Europe and present a better capability of defending the EU. By locating the missiles in Azerbaijan, Russia would not aim its own missiles towards Europe and would feel more a partner in developing the missile defense system. “This will create necessary grounds for common work,” Putin stated.
President Bush seemed interested in the idea but did not make any commitments saying:
“This is a serious issue and we want to make sure that we all understand each other’s positions very clearly,” said Bush. “As a result of these conversations, I expect there to be better understanding of the technologies involved and the opportunities to work together. As a result of our discussions, we both agreed to have a strategic dialogue, an opportunity to share ideas and concerns between our State Department, Defense Department and military people”
White House National Security Advisor Steve Hadley called Putin’s suggestions a “positive step”.
“President Putin basically suggested that the proper approach would be for us to get appropriate experts together in a room, put all the proposals on the table and see if we can plot a way ahead that would provide protection to all three regions — Russia, Europe, and the United States — in a very transparent and open way,” Hadley stated.
The Gabala radar station has a range of about 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles) and is leased to Russia through 2012. The station, Russia’s only military facility in Azerbaijan, plays a significant role in the Russian air defense system. Russian experts believe that the joint use of the Gabala radar would be beneficial for all parties concerned as it covers all potential missile threats coming from Asia, and could eliminate the need to place missile defense radars in Europe, including in the Czech Republic. Putin had stated that under the terms of the station’s lease, Russia could invite the U.S. into the facility as a joint operator. Azerbaijan’s President has assured Putin that would not be a problem if the U.S. and Russia agreed to jointly operate the Gabala radar facility.
It remains to be seen what if anything will come from this proposal but at the very least it shows that Putin is willing to accommodate some kind of defensive missile program as long as the Russians are involved as equal partners with the West.