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Will America agree to swap ABM systems?
08/07/06
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.