Russia Says Good-Bye to Gabala
After bouts of haggling over the rent, Russia has abandoned a Soviet-era, early-warning radar in Azerbaijan that essentially served as the Kremlin’s security camera for the Caucasus, Middle East and South Asia.
The official cause is cost: Baku had asked for $300 million per year for a renewal on Russia's lease on the station; a hefty hike from the heretofore $7 million per year.
With Moscow planning to build its own radar stations with similar coverage areas (the Armavir radar station north of the Caucasus mountain range, already partly overlaps Gabala's range), the new rent was not worth it for Russia, officials said.
Earlier, Moscow had offered Washington a share on the station as a possible substitute for US plans, opposed by Moscow, to deploy a missile shield system in Poland and the Czech Republic to defend Eastern Europe from potential attacks from Iran and North Korea, but the idea went nowhere.
What's planned next for Gabala is not clear. One senior presidential administration official, however, has indicated that tourism will be in the works -- the station is located in an increasingly popular area for tourists, with increasing land prices, EurasiaNet.org reported earlier this year.
A Russian military expert, though, told Azerbaijan's APA news agency that quitting Gabala was not a prudent move since the station could always have doubled for Moscow as a backup if Armavir is down for maintenance.
But Baku, ever conscious of its own economic punching power in the region, is shrugging its shoulders. The non-renewal of the Gabala lease was not a sign of any chill in Russian-Azerbaijani ties, government officials maintain.
Said ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party Executive Secretary Ali Ahmedov: it was just business, not politics.