Azerbaijan Accuses Russia of Air Space Violation

BAKU (Reuters–Interfax)–Azerbaijan said on Monday a Russian warplane had violated its airspace several days ago and that it had briefly put its air defenses on high alert.

A Foreign Ministry statement–published in the government press–said a Russian MiG-29 warplane flew into Azeri territory from neighboring Armenia on February 25.

"At 5.46 p.m. a Russian MiG warplane violated the air border of Azerbaijan in the Kelbadjar region and penetrated nine miles into Azeri territory," said the statement–adding that air defenses had been put on high alert at the time.

It said the plane spent two minutes in Azeri airspace.

A high-ranking defense ministry official told Reuters Azeri forces could have shot down the plane but chose not to.

"We had all the means to shoot down the plane," said the official–who declined to give his name.

The potentially oil-rich former Soviet republic strongly criticized covert Russian arms shipmen’s to its arch-foe Armenia between 1994 and 1996–which have been acknowledged by some Russian high officials.

It has also criticized recent Russian transfers to Armenian territory of MiG-29 fighter planes and anti-aircraft systems. Moscow says the arms are for the military base it keeps in Armenia.

Azeri officials have said they would welcome NATO bases and troops to guard against what they consider a Russian threat.

Also on Monday–the country’s top foreign policy official said Baku had informed NATO headquarters in Brussels of its desire to participate in any peacekeeping force the Western alliance sends to Kosovo.

Vafa Guluzade–President Haydar Aliyev’s foreign policy adviser–said Azerbaijan was ready to send a 30-member platoon to Kosovo under the Partnership for Peace Program.

Azeri and Turkish military experts have begun work on the "technical aspects" of a plan to set up a Turkish military base in Azerbaijan–Azeri government sources said.

Military cooperation plans were discussed this week during a visit to Baku by a Turkish military delegation led by Ibrahim Tulun–the sources told Interfax.

The "location of a Turkish military base in Azerbaijan on the basis of a bilateral agreement between Baku and Ankara would be an optimum present day option to implement the plans of the West to set up a strategic bridgehead in the Transcaucasus"–the sources said.

The sources’ words were neither confirmed nor denied by the Azeri Defense Ministry. However–a senior ministry official told Interfax: "Azerbaijan may shortly take fairly resolute steps to make an appropriate response to the export of Russian armamen’s to Armenia."This was discussed at a … meeting of the Azeri Security Council–which the president of the country–Haydar Aliyev–held the other day."Our aim is to liberate Nagorno-Karabakh and restore the territorial integrity of the country. For the sake of this we are ready to cooperate both with Turkey–Iran and NATO."

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