June 09, 2007

Will America agree to swap ABM systems?

18:58 | 08/ 06/ 2007

MOSCOW. (Military commentator Viktor Safonov for RIA Novosti) - At this year's G8 summit in Heiligendamm, President Vladimir Putin made George W. Bush an offer he will have difficulty refusing.

Why deploy missile interceptors and a radar in the Czech Republic and Poland to protect Europe against "rogue countries" when there is a much simpler, cheaper and more effective solution?

The Daryal early-warning missile radar is located in Gabala, Azerbaijan, just 180 km to the north of Baku - that is, close to the Iranian border. Using it instead of placing new ABM elements in Europe would benefit everyone.

Washington would remove Moscow's natural concern that the American ground-based interceptors on the Baltic Sea coast are meant for Russian strategic missiles in the Tver, Kaluga, Ivanovo and Vladimir regions. Warsaw, Prague and their European neighbors would no longer be afraid of the Russian Topol-M and Iskander-M missiles that, as Putin has warned, will be targeted at them. The United States would have the opportunity to observe Iranian airspace. The Gabala radar monitors land, water, air and space up to 6,000 kilometers away, the same as the distance from Turkey to Singapore.

Azerbaijan also stands to gain from this proposal. By different estimates, Russia pays it $7-$10 million to lease the Gabala radar. The 900 Russian officers at the station create jobs for the local population. If they are joined by American officers, Azerbaijan will get even more money.

But the main point is that the Pentagon would gain an official foothold in the South Caucasian Republic without embarrassing Baku in front of its strategic partner, Moscow. Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov told the Novosti-Azerbaijan news agency that bilateral talks on this radar had been held with both Russia and the United States. He said that Foreign Minister Elmar Mamedyarov had discussed this issue with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, during the latter's recent trip to Baku.

Later on, Russian Ambassador to Azerbaijan Vasily Istratov spoke about the possibility of using the Gabala radar as an element of an American ABM system. But his suggestion did not create much of a stir in the international media.

The question of whether the United States will agree to this tempting proposal remains open. Many military analysts believe that Washington is likely to reject Moscow's proposal using some plausible-sounding excuse because it needs strategic ABM system in Europe in order to be able to target Topol-M, Stilet and Satan missiles in European Russia and the southern Urals.

This problem has another aspect. It doesn't even matter whether Russian strategic missiles are a threat to the United States. What matters is the huge amount of money that the American taxpayer, scared by years of propaganda, is ready to spend on national security. The military-industrial complex's lobbyists in Congress and the White House will not allow this money to be used for any other purpose.

Russia and the United States are not likely to cooperate in the ABM sphere. Since 1998, Moscow and Washington have been unsuccessfully trying to reach an agreement on establishing centers for the exchange of information on strategic missile launches on a reciprocal basis. The Russia-NATO Council has set up a joint group to establish a theater ABM system in Europe. It has conducted a dozen consultations and several staff exercises, practiced joint action, reconnaissance and warning. The sides have agreed on what hardware should be used to repel a tactical missile attack - NATO is going to buy the American PAC-3 Patriot. Brussels says that the Russian systems cannot be used for reasons of "operational incompatibility."

Meanwhile, Greece, a NATO member, has built its entire anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense using the Russian Top-M1 and S-300PMU1 systems. It is clear that Europe favors American defense companies over their Russian counterparts.

Putin's latest proposal is likely to meet with the same response. After high-level discussions on using the Gabala radar for protection against Iranian missiles, experts will conclude that it is "incompatible" with the American ABM system.

The ABM swap, therefore, is unlikely. Analysts expect Washington to deploy its elements as planned - near Prague and near Warsaw.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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