Amid the negotiations between Russia and Azerbaijan over the Gabala radar station, Armenia has stepped in and said they would be willing to host a Russian radar if a deal over Gabala falls through.
The current lease for the radar station expires in December, and Azerbaijan has gradually been raising the price it says it wants to charge Russia under a new agreement. The latest reports had Azerbaijan’s price rising from $7 million now to a whopping $300 million. Another set of talks on the issue between the foreign ministers of the two countries took place this week, with no apparent resolution. But Armenia’s prime minister, Tigran Sargsyan, said in an interview with the Russian newspaper Kommersant that Armenia would be willing to host a replacement radar, and that it could even be a better site for it than Azerbaijan:
“There may even be advantages, because Armenia is a mountainous country. Coverage can be broader,” Sargsyan said.
Meanwhile, the Russian and Azerbaijani public bargaining continued. Ali Hasanov, a top adviser to Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev, tried to emphasize that the negotiations were taking place on Azerbaijan’s terms:
“Gabala radar station is our property. We decide on to whom and on what terms to lease it, taking into account the interests of the state. We take into consideration its cost, policy and its impact on relations with neighboring countries” Hasanov said.
And he downplayed the threat of an Armenian counteroffer:
“We do not have anything against that. Of course, why the Armenian outpost cannot be a radar post as well? If Russia needs to build this post in Armenia, we will not have any objections” he said.
And a Russian expert, quoted by RIA Novosti, pointed out that Russia didn’t need Gabala or a replacement, that it has its own, new radar in Armavir, in the North Caucasus:
The deputy director of the Institute of Political and Military Analysis, Alexander Khramchikhin, has said the end of the Gabala radar lease will do no “real damage” to Russia’s defense capabilities because another radar, constructed in the southern Russian town of Armavir, would cover the area of the Gabala radar.
The Voronezh-class radar in Armavir in the Black Sea area is currently operating in test mode and is a serious breakthrough when compared to the previous generation Dnepr and Daryal class radars, which the Gabala radar belongs to.
Left unsaid in all this is that a large part of Russia’s interest in Gabala is maintaining a strategic presence in Azerbaijan. So while technically radars in Russia or Armenia could replace it, Russia still wants to have some sort of presence in Azerbaijan, which will give Azerbaijan a relatively strong bargaining position here. But how much is that worth to Russia? We should find out before December.