By Anar Valiyev
On December 10, media outlets reported that Russia will end its use of the Gabala Radar Station, located on Azerbaijan’s territory. The Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that following intensive negotiations over Gabala, the two sides were unable to reach an agreement on leasing fees. The Russian Interfax agency cited an anonymous diplomatic source who contended that the Russian withdrawal from Gabala would not negatively affect relations between Russia and Azerbaijan (Interfax, December 10).
The Head of the External Relations Department in Azerbaijan’s presidential administration, Novruz Mammadov, stressed that the Russian withdrawal from Gabala will have no negative impact on bilateral relations. He made it clear that the reason for the closure was financial and not political in nature. Concerning the future of the radar station, Mammadov said that the surrounding Gabala region is a center of tourism. It is, therefore, possible that the military installation will generally be eliminated and ruled out the possibility of leasing the Gabala radar to some other country (Trend, December 11). Arastun Orujlu, the head of the Baku-based East-West think tank, believes that Azerbaijan was not the initiator of the Russian withdrawal. Most probably, Russia received guarantees that the site will not be leased to anyone else (Contact.az, December 11).
Uzeir Jafarov, a Baku-based military expert argues that the Gabala station has no practical use for Azerbaijan from a military perspective, while the environmental damage caused by its continued use was high. Therefore, the termination of this site should be considered a positive political decision (Contact.az, December 11). However, he expects that the closure of Gabala will, in fact, lead to a deterioration of bilateral relations. Jafarov maintains that Gabala has little military value for Azerbaijan and Baku lacks human resources for its operations. Today, Armenia represents the major threat for Azerbaijan, but the country’s air defense system currently in place is able to successfully repulse possible Armenian air strikes without further assistance from the Gabala station. Political analyst Eldar Namazov agrees on this point, adding that the low rent being charged for Russia’s continued use of the site made it uneconomical for Azerbaijan to maintain it. However, Namazov also believes that Moscow’s loss of its military presence in Azerbaijan will negatively impact bilateral diplomatic and political relations. Time will tell how negative these consequences will be, he believes (Contact.az, December 11).
Other political experts have more openly argued that Russia will take revenge for its forced withdrawal from Azerbaijan. Political observer and journalist Rauf Mirkadirov, writing the Zerkalo newspaper on December 11, asserted that Azerbaijan should expect provocations from Russia. He even compared the current situation in Azerbaijan with the situation in Georgia prior to the Russian-Georgian war in 2008, when seven months before the war, the last echelon of Russian military equipment left Georgia. Moreover, he added, with the Russian withdrawal from Azerbaijan, the significance of Armenia as the only Russian satellite in the Caucasus would increase (Zerkalo, December 11).
Notably, the Russian-Azerbaijani failure to come to an agreement on Gabala came at a point when relations between the two countries are experiencing hard times—as illustrated by the Azerbaijani president’s boycott of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) summit in Ashgabat this month (see EDM, December, 14). The next couple of months will clarify how the Russian withdrawal will affect relations between Moscow and Baku.