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Russia touts radar offer, says shield not needed

Russia said on Saturday its offer to the United States of joint use of a radar it controls in Azerbaijan made a planned American missile shield in central Europe unnecessary.
/ Source: Reuters

Russia said on Saturday its offer to the United States of joint use of a radar it controls in Azerbaijan made a planned American missile shield in central Europe unnecessary.

It stressed its offer was still open, despite Washington’s signal it will press ahead with its plan to base radar and missile interceptors in Poland and the Czech Republic to counter the threat of a nuclear attack from “rogue” states like Iran.

Russia’s foreign and first deputy prime ministers set out Moscow’s stance after President Vladimir Putin surprised Washington on Thursday with the radar offer.

Putin, keen to avoid Washington placing its missile defense shield in Central Europe where Moscow says it could threaten Russian security, had suggested both sides instead used the Russian-rented Qabala radar in Azerbaijan.

“This (Qabala station) is an efficient element of a reliable early warning system,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists in Moscow.

“It remarkably well copes with all its tasks and it fully serves our interests without causing any strain in Russia’s ties with its neighbors.”

He rejected at the same time an idea that Moscow could take part in the U.S. missile shield system: “To suppose that we will take part in building such a potential which ... creates a threat to us is wishful thinking.”

Putin said on Friday the interceptors could be placed in southern Europe or Turkey and that Russia was happy to share intelligence picked up by the Azeri radar. Moscow would also then not retarget its own missiles towards Central Europe.

Lavrov said using the Qabala station would make elements of the planned U.S. missile shield in Europe unnecessary.

“Joint use of information collected by this (Qabala) station would allow the U.S. to give up plans of deploying elements of its missile shield in Europe and allows not to think of deploying some components in space.”

Russian initiative
President Bush did not comment directly on the Russian offer to use Qabala during a visit to Poland on Friday, but signaled Washington would press ahead regardless with its plans to locate the shield in Central Europe.

Asked about the U.S. reaction to Russia’s offer, First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov told a news conference in St Petersburg earlier on Saturday: “Of course (the Russian initiative) remains on the table.”

Ivanov, a former defense minister, is considered a leading contender to succeed Putin in elections next March.

Ivanov said using Azeri-based radar would be more effective than operating radar in Central Europe because it could pick up hostile cruise missiles as well as intercontinental missiles.

“In my opinion, Russia’s suggestion regarding the use of Qabala radar station ... is the most effective from the point of view of control over launches of any missiles from the vast southern strategic direction.”

Lavrov said Putin and Bush had agreed “to conduct a detailed study of the anti-missile shield with the participation of foreign ministry and defense experts”.

“Beyond all doubt, this issue will be a center piece at the Putin-Bush summit in Kennebunkport on July 1-2 this year.”