President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia put forth a counter-offer today to President Bush’s proposed missile defense plan, suggesting that instead of building radar defenses in the Czech Republic, the United States should use an existing system in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan. With the dispute flaring in recent days into Cold War-style rhetoric and threats from Moscow, Putin’s proposal to put the system in Azerbaijan came as a surprise.

Putin said the existing radar station, built during Soviet times and leased to Russia for 10 years in 2002, is still held by Russia under a continuing agreement between Russia and Azerbaijan. He argued the benefits of his suggested substitute: An Azerbaijan-based system would cover all of Europe rather than just part of it, and destroyed missile debris would fall in the ocean rather than on land. Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov said Azerbaijan is currently holding consultations both with Russia and the U.S. on the joint use of the Gabala radar in the north of the country.

The Gabala radar station, (also called Gabelinskaya) is located at Lyaki, about 300 km to the west of Baku, which Russia leases from Azerbaijan, is the most powerful in the region. It has a range of about 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles) and enables Russia’s Space Forces to monitor launches of intercontinental ballistic and other missiles in Asia and parts of Africa. Most important is that it covers the entire region of Iran and can become a crucial element in monitoring Tehran’s nuclear and missile activities.

According to reports, a missile launched from a submarine anywhere in the Indian Ocean will instantly appear on a monitor in the command post of the Gabala station. The equipment of the radar station automatically processes data and gives technical details: speed, size of warheads, launch site, drop trajectory, and the target of the missile. Then this information goes in encoded form to Russian Ministry of Defense HQ. A joint sharing of information can become critical once Iran and other rogue states, reach WMD capability. But there is a price: The radar station covers large portions of valuable of land and the projected power of the station surpassing 350 MW has already created severe ecological problems in Azerbaijan. For example, just one hour of operations at the station already requires 300-400 cubic meters of cooling water. ON top of this twenty-five tones of Freon are used to cool the station’s equipment just once. This gas destroys the ozone layer 500-600 times more than others. a distinct issue, which the present G8 are trying to minimize, mostly in vain.

A Google earth 3D terrain satellite image of the Gabala radar station.

See related analysis: Is America Losing its Strategic Hold on Central Asia?

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