Russia is planning to set up a radar installation in Azerbaijan in 2017, a television station operated by the Russian Ministry of Defense has reported. It would be Russia’s first military installation in Azerbaijan after Baku refused to renew the lease for a previous radar system, at Gabala, in 2012.
The report, on TV Zvezda, details Russia’s air defense posture and future plans. Among the future plans are to deploy a Voronezh-DM early-warning radar in Azerbaijan: “Erection of Voronezh stations is continuing, and not only in Russia. There are plans to start construction in Azerbaijan in 2017, in place of the out-of-service “Daryal” radar in Gabala. The new station will be under exclusively Russian control,” the report says.
The planned system in Azerbaijan would supplement the existing Voronezh system in Armavir, in Russia’s North Caucasus. That radar covers Russia’s air borders from “southern Europe to Northern Africa,” and the Azerbaijani radar would “cover those regions which the Armavir station can’t reach,” Zvezda reports.
Azerbaijani government officials have not yet commented on the report. The one Azerbaijani media outlet to have picked it up, haqqin.az, headlined it “Russia is Going to Build a New Military Base in Azerbaijan,” somewhat of an exaggeration but one that’s suggestive of the political impact this could have.
When Baku and Moscow started negotiating in 2011 over the renewal of the lease agreement at Gabala, the key Azerbaijani demands appeared to be higher rent (which had been $7 million a year), as well as other concessions like increasing the number of Azerbaijani civilians working there and Azerbaijani companies servicing the facility. Whatever demands were made, they appeared too onerous for Moscow, which walked away, saying that the Armavir station would be enough.
So what’s changed? Russia does seem to think there are some holes in Armavir’s coverage, so are they now willing to accede to Azerbaijan’s demands? Or is Azerbaijan willing to give on something else? Stay tuned.