Russia could build a new early-warning radar station in Armenia after failing to extend the lease on such a facility located in Azerbaijan, the Armenian Defense Ministry said on Tuesday.
“Of course, I don’t rule out that. Our military cooperation with the Russian Federation is at a very high level,” Artsrun Hovannisian, the ministry spokesman, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
It is not clear if Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian discussed the matter with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Shoygu, when they held talks in Moscow earlier in the day on the sidelines of a meeting of defense chiefs of several former Soviet republics. The Defense Ministry in Yerevan said only that they discussed Russian-Armenian military cooperation and mapped out joint activities for next year.
After protracted negotiations, Russia and Azerbaijan have failed to agree on Moscow's continued use of the Gabala radar station. The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said on Monday that its Russian counterpart has sent a note saying it would no longer use the Soviet-era facility starting from December 10.
Baku had reportedly wanted to increase the annual rent for the facility to $300 million from $7 million under the current agreement signed in 2002. Reuters quoted an unnamed Azerbaijani official as saying said earlier this year that Baku wants to limit Russia's presence in Azerbaijan and that the price is being increased to discourage Moscow's from pursuing an extension of the rent that expires this month.
With no progress made in Russian-Azerbaijani negotiations on Gabala, a retired top Russian army general, Leonid Ivashov, suggested in March that the Russian military should consider building a similar facility in Armenia.
Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian said shortly afterwards that Yerevan is ready, in principle, to host it. “If our territory is of such interest, we are ready to discuss this issue,” he told the Russian daily “Kommersant.”
Russia is already building a new radar station near the southern Russian city of Armavir. Lieutenant General Nikolai Rodionov, the former commander of the country's ballistic missile early warning system, told the Interfax news agency on Monday that it is due to be completed soon.
Sergei Minasian, an Armenian analyst, suggested that the Russians hardly need to have a radar station elsewhere in the South Caucasus. He said that for them the loss of the Gabala station is significant primarily because it puts an end to Russia’s military presence in Azerbaijan.
“Therefore, they will hardly find it necessary, in the military-political sense, to build a new station in Armenia because Russia already has a military base here,” Minasian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “If Russia decides to build a new station it will prefer to do that in its own territory.”