Russian proposal of U.S. using radar base in Azerbaijan could upset region
June 8, 2007 (RFE/RL) --
In geopolitics, particularly in a place as strategically important as the South
Caucasus, even the smallest shift can unleash major
What would the
impact be on that volatile region -- a crossroads for the competing interests of
Russia, the United States, and Iran -- if Washington accepted Russian President
Vladimir Putin's offer to jointly use a Russian-leased radar base in Azerbaijan
as part of an antimissile shield?
In a word: profound.
Azerbaijan and Armenia, which fought a war in the early 1990s, are still locked
in a bitter dispute. And Iran, meanwhile, is unlikely to view favorably more
U.S. military moves on its border. Iranian state radio said today that Putin's
proposal could have "serious regional implications in the domain of
Radio Farda acting Director Mosaddegh Katouzian notes that
Tehran and Baku's good relations could be affected, and that the issue is likely
to be discussed in two weeks during Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's
scheduled visit to Baku
"Definitely Iran would be concerned about having
those types of bases in Azerbaijan because of its own security," Katouzian says.
"So probably in the next talks between President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Baku
officials, this is going to come up as a big concern."
Then there's Armenia and Azerbaijan, who fought a war in
1991-94 in which 25,000 died. They have since been locked in a bitter dispute
over the object of that conflict: Azerbaijan's predominantly
ethnic-Armenian-populated region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
offer comes as Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian President Robert
Kocharian, himself a former Karabakh leader, are to meet in St. Petersburg on
June 9 to discuss the standoff over the enclave.
have hoped that the two presidents can agree on small steps to improve life for
people in Nagorno-Karabakh. But they also fear if dialogue fails, violence could
resume, destabilizing an area that is emerging as a key energy producer and
transport route between the Caspian Sea region and Europe.
missile-defense proposal, however, appears to risk tipping the balancing act on
Nagorno-Karabakh toward Azerbaijan.
Rasim Musabekov, a political analyst based in Baku, suggests
Azerbaijan could parlay any pivotal role in Washington's missile-defense shield
into obtaining concessions from Armenian in the standoff over
"The discussion of this issue alone is raising
Azerbaijan's strategic importance. This is a win for Azerbaijan. If we are taken
as partners of the United States of America and Russia, this would give us
certain security guarantees and would lead to obligations [on the part of Russia
and the United States] to settle problems that Azerbaijan is concerned about,"
"In the first place, this means
restoring Azerbaijan's territorial integrity, which was violated by Armenian
aggression against 20 percent of Azerbaijan's territory," he adds.
far, Azerbaijani authorities have refrained from offering a full reaction to
However, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar
Mammadyarov has told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that Baku is ready to
negotiate "bilaterally, or we can do it in the trilateral format" with the
United States and Russia, which currently leases the radar base from
Armenia, meanwhile, would appear to be concerned about that
Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Karapetian tells
RFE/RL that both Russia and the United States should "take into account the
balance of the power in the region before making such a
But for weeks now, even before
Putin made his surprise proposal at the Group of Eight (G8) summit in Germany,
that balance has already appeared to be tilting away from
Yerevan is traditionally a close ally of Russia. But Harry
Tamrazian, head of RFE/RL's Armenian Service, says that in recent weeks there's
been a flood of Russian officials visiting Baku, including a visit by Russian
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
"Now, it appears that [the] Russians are
talking to [the] Azeris. Russian high-level officials are frequently in Baku.
You can see them almost every week in Baku, talking to Azeri leaders," he says.
"And this makes Armenian leaders nervous. Obviously, there is a clear
rapprochement between Moscow and Baku."
Together with France, the United
States and Russia are co-chairs of the Minsk Group, the body set up by the
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to seek solutions to the
Yerevan's chief concern now, says Tamrazian, is
that if Russia and U.S. interests converge in Baku, Armenia could pay the
Copyright (c) 2007 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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