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Putin Missile Shield Proposal Intensifies Tug-Of-War

Russian President Vladimir Putin.
by Nick Coleman
Moscow (AFP) Jun 08, 2007
Russian President Vladimir Putin's offer to share a radar station in Azerbaijan with the United States for missile defence is aimed at wresting back the initiative in a strategic tug-of-war, analysts said Friday. Putin's proposal at the Group of Eight (G8) summit in Germany on Thursday reflected a very different view of global security from Washington's and one that showed increasing wariness of US intentions.

Russia has insisted that any efforts to build new anti-missile systems should be a matter of joint efforts that would protect the wider European continent.

Moscow remains deeply sceptical about the current US plan to place interceptor missiles in Poland and elements of a linked radar system in the Czech Republic, both NATO members.

Reflecting this, analyst Ivan Safranchuk, of the Moscow office of the World Security Institute, said there was good reason to doubt Washington's claims that its plans are aimed only at "rogue states" and not at Russia.

In the short-term Moscow is particularly worried that the radar in the Czech Republic would peer deep into Russian territory, he said.

"Russia wants to be sure that the system will not have a dual purpose and will be targeted only against the Middle East. The location in Azerbaijan is a guarantee," he said.

The system proposed by the United States on the other hand "will be operational in the Czech Republic and Poland for 30 years.... Even if we believe Bush, who can give a promise on 30 years?"

"It's absolutely silly to say: 'Trust us because we're friends.'"

Others however were much more sceptical of Putin's plan, saying that the vast Soviet-built radar in Azerbaijan would be useless against missiles fired from that country's southern neighbour, Iran.

An analyst at the Moscow office of the US-based Heritage Foundation, Yevgeny Volk, said that Putin's initiative was "mainly propogandistic and political" and aimed at increasing the so far muted resistance to the US proposals found in some west European countries.

He added that the initiative was unlikely to persuade the United States to drop its plans for the Czech Republic and Poland.

"I can hardly believe America will give its assent. The proposal is drafted in such a way that America will reject it," he said.

Meanwhile independent defence analyst Pavel Felgenhauer pointed to numerous problems with the Russian proposal.

The radar at Gabala in Azerbaijan is not equipped to link up with interceptor missiles, being designed to monitor US military activity further afield, he said.

It would also be highly vulnerable to any attack from Iran, being a vast stationary structure 16 stories high, and due to its stationary position is not even able to see into all corners of Iran, he said.

"Readings from the radar won't help them. The radar provides information that the United States already has," said Felgenhauer.

The Russian plan contradicts the US "ideology" on missile defence, which is to start work on an interception system in order to discourage Iran from developing long-range missiles in the first place, he said.

Doubts were also voiced in Brussels on Friday by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

"It's a bit early to judge if an Azeri radar could do, and could be the answer to the threats. I think it's a bit close to the 'rogue states' we are discussing," he said at a security conference in Brussels.

In Azerbaijan itself, Putin's plan received an initial welcome on Friday, with Baku saying it was ready for talks.

But Moscow and its former Soviet satellite Azerbaijan have increasingly been at odds and cooperation may not be easy.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, who succeeded from his father in 2003, "is much more pro-Western than his father. He's interested in cooperation with Turkey and the United States," said Volk.

"The balance is mainly on (Moscow's) side but it's shifting to America. Azerbaijan understands in defending its national security interests it can hardly rely on Russia," Volk said, explaining that Moscow is closely allied to Armenia, with which Azerbaijan fought a brutal war in the 1990s.

earlier related report
Too soon to know if US-Russia anti-missile base would work: NATO
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Friday that it was too early to judge whether a shared Russia-US base in Azerbaijan could be effectively integrated into the US missile shield.

"I am not a technician but I do think that the geographical location... is of course different to other choices the United States has made," he said, referring to US plans to build part of its missile shield in Eastern Europe.

"It's a bit early to judge if an Azeri radar could do, and could be the answer to the threats. I think it's a bit close to the 'rogue states' we are discussing," he said at a security conference in Brussels.

A NATO official said, on condition of anonymity, that Scheffer might have thought the Azeri base was too close to deal with an attack by long-range missiles.

Washington announced in January that it wanted to extend its missile shield into Europe by installing 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic, linked to an early warning system, possibly in the Caucasus.

It said the shield would protect against attack from "rogue states", mainly Iran but also North Korea.

The plan has angered Russia, and at a Group of Eight summit in Germany, Russian President Vladimir Putin made a surprising call for a joint Russian-US base in Azerbaijan to detect missile attacks.

US President George W. Bush found the Russian offer "interesting", according to his national security advisor, and has proposed that experts from the two countries examine it.

"I think it is always useful if the two presidents, Bush and Putin, are constructively talking to each other on this subject," said Scheffer. "Let's see how the debate further develops."

A NATO diplomat told AFP that Russia had already raised the issue of using its radar installations in Azerbaijan, out of concern that the early warning system might be set up in Georgia.

The diplomat said, on condition of anonymity, that no formal offer was made.

In Azerbaijan itself, Foreign Minister Elmar Mamedyarov welcomed Putin's proposal, saying: "This will bring more stability to the region, where the situation will become more predictable."

Scheffer also underlined that any future missile shield must cover all of the 26 NATO allies.

"If missile defence is being discussed... indivisibility of security is the key principle," he said.

The US shield, under its current design, would leave Bulgaria, Greece, Romania and Turkey either partially or totally outside the missile umbrella.

NATO, which has barely begun studying whether to develop its own missile shield, is likely to "bolt on" its small theatre missile system -- used primarily to protect troops in the field -- to the US shield to fill any gaps.

The NATO in-theatre system is expected to be up and running by 2010-2011, some two years before the US shield is likely to be fully operational, and would be able to counter short- and possibly medium-range missile attacks.

earlier related report
White House 'encouraged' by Russia on missile defense
Washington (AFP) June 10 - The White House, dismissing talk of a new Cold War chill with Russia, said Sunday it was "encouraged" by Moscow's willingness to debate the site of a planned US missile defense system.

After Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for a freeze to the US shield foreseen for eastern Europe, White House spokesman Tony Snow said "deployment is something that's not going to take place for a while."

"Frankly we are encouraged by the fact that the Russians now are talking about figuring out a way to provide a missile shield that will discourage rogue regimes from loading nukes on missiles," Snow said on Fox News.

President George W. Bush's spokesman said that at last week's Group of Eight summit in Germany, "everybody thought we were going to have this Cold War fisticuffs between the presidents (Vladimir) Putin and Bush."

"President Putin said, no, I've got different ideas on missile defense. That is a very important step forward," Snow said, noting also that the two leaders are to meet again in Kennebunkport, Maine on July 1-2.

Lavrov said Saturday that the US missile defense shield could worsen a nuclear stand-off with Iran and urged Washington to freeze work on the plans with the Czech Republic and Poland.

Lavrov said the United States should take time to study a proposal by Putin made at the G8 summit to use an alternative radar station in ex-Soviet republic Azerbaijan.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer welcomed the proposal but, along with some analysts, voiced doubts about the Azerbaijani radar's ability to meet US requirements.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Azerbaijani Radar A Looming Presence For Nervous Inhabitants
Gabala, Azerbaijan (AFP) Jun 08, 2007
For the people who live in its shadow, the towering Gabala radar station in Azerbaijan is more than just a bargaining chip in US-Russian wrangles over missile defence. A product of the Cold War, the station was originally used to monitor US military activity around the Indian Ocean and continues to be operated by Russia.

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