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Russian-U.S. tour of Gabala radar "extremely useful"

A group of Russian, U.S. and Azeri military experts have visited the Gabala Radar Station in Azerbaijan to see how it could be used as part of a joint anti-missile initiative.

Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed using the station as an alternative for the U.S. plans of deploying elements of its anti-missile shield in Eastern Europe. Russia sees the missiles as a threat to its security, and hopes joint usage of the Azeri radar station will provide a compromise.

This delegation of American experts made history as this was the first time an operational radar station of the Russian Federation has been visited by U.S. military personnel.

“Today’s meeting was extremely useful. It marked us passing from the phase of consultations, briefings and meetings to practical work at the Gabala radar station,” Major General Aleksandr Yakushin, Deputy Head of Russian Space Forces, said. 

Azerbaijan’s massive 16-storey Gabala radar station was built during Soviet times and is now leased to Russia. The unprecedented visit comes at the invitation of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, who earlier this year proposed that Russia and the U.S. might be able to jointly operate the facility as part of its planned anti-missile defence system.

The U.S. proposes to site an anti-missile radar in Eastern Europe to counter perceived threats from countries such as Iran. Russia objects to these plans, seeing them as a threat to its security, and has therefore proposed Gabala, which is located just a few hundred kilometres from the Iranian border. The visit is aimed at finding out just how realistic this proposal is.

“The discussions were very informative, but a specific analysis – this is a very complex subject – will have to continue in the United States. I will report back to my superiors and then we will meet again in Moscow to continue our discussions,” Brigadier General Patrick O’Reilly, Deputy Head of the American Missile Defence Agency, commented.

Though no concrete decisions were reached today, joint use of the Gabala radar could prove an acceptable compromise.

Whether or not the sides do eventually reach an agreement on the joint use of the radar station, the very fact that this visit occurred means that the U.S.-proposed anti-missile defence system could become an area of co-operation rather than a bone of contention between the two counties.