In an interview last week with the Russian Kommersant newspaper, Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan said that Armenia is ready to discuss the possible construction of a radar station, similar to the Gabala station that is currently in Azerbaijan.
However, the Israeli DEBKAfile reported Monday that Armenia had already agreed to his a Russian radar station following a visit last week by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who reportedly proposed the Russian radar scheme during talks with Armenian officials.
DEBKAfile also reported that the proposed Russian radar would be set up to counter a US radar that began operating in the Kurecik air base in Turkey as part a NATO shield program against a possible Iranian missile attack.
Russia’s lease agreement with Azerbaijan for the Gabala radar station is due to expire at the end of this year. Reportedly Azerbaijan wants to charge an upward of $300 million for operation of the radar, for which Russia is currently paying $7 million annually
“There is a chance that Armenia would approve construction of a similar station on its territory if Russia and Azerbaijan fail to reach an agreement on Gabala’s lease terms,” said Sargsyan during his interview with Kommersant. “If our territory is of interest from that perspective, we are ready to discuss it. Why not?”
DEBKAfile, however, is linking Russia’s interest in an Armenian radar station not to the expiring Gabala lease, but to growing tensions in the region over a possible Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Israel’s recent $1.6 billion missile deal with Azerbaijan is being viewed as a way to use Azerbaijan as a staging ground for a possible attack on Iran. In a report on MSNBC Monday, Azerbaijan was compared to the Casablanca of World War II and called “a den of spies” working on behalf of Israeli and US interests against Iran.
DEBKAfile reported that “just as the Turkish station (not withstanding Ankara’s denial) will trade data on incoming Iranian missiles with the US station in the Israeli Negev, the Russian station in Armenia will share input with Tehran.”
“Armenia’s willingness to help Russia in solving the issue by as radical a method, as placement of a similar station on its territory, will most probably outrage Baku: it’s not enough that Moscow wouldn’t pay more money, it would also strengthen its ties with Azerbaijan’s worst enemy,” wrote the Russian Svobodnaya Pressa newspaper, according to ArmeniaNow.
“The idea voiced by the Armenian Prime Minister that his country is ready to discuss construction of a new radar station on its territory analogous to Gabala in Azerbaijan is a very powerful move,” said Ruslan Pukhov, the head of the Russian Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.
“Even if the idea is never realized, the very fact of that offer considerably strengthens Moscow’s positions in negotiations with Baku. It will, by all means, put pressure on Azerbaijan and will become a trump card in Russia’s hands. By this step Armenia has helped out Russia greatly. I believe the Kremlin will duly appreciate it,” added Pukhov.
“I don’t know how much the construction of a new station in Armenia would cost, but if Azerbaijan is asking $300 million per year, and building a new radar station would cost, say, $250 million, it’s not big money to our country at all,” said Mikhail Delyagin, the head of the Russian Institute of Globalization and Social Movements.
“I would start building [the radar station] just to show that Russia has its independent policies and twisting its arms is not advisable. If one still attempts to do so, they would have more to lose than gain,” added Delyagin.