Accessibility links

Breaking News

Caucasus: Officials Muted On U.S. Radar Proposal

U.S. Air Force General Henry Obering speaking in Washington on February 22 (epa) March 2, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Officials in Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan say they have not received a request from the United States to host a radar system that would be part of Washington's proposed missile-defense shield in Europe.

But Nikoloz Rurua, the deputy chairman of Georgia's parliamentary Defense and Security Committee, today told RFE/RL's Georgian Service that he personally believed it would be a valuable opportunity for his country.

"As you are well aware, there are three independent countries in the Caucasus," Rurua said. "As for Georgia's position -- or, [to be more precise], my own personal position, for I cannot speak on behalf of the executive government -- I think it is possible to accept this proposal. In my view, the closer Georgia gets to Western defense systems, the more integrated it becomes in these spheres, the better it is for our country."

MORE: Coverage in Russian from RFE/RL's Russian Service.

The U.S. Initiative

U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General Henry Obering, who heads the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, said March 1 that the United States is looking to base an antimissile radar in one of the South Caucasus countries.

The proposal is likely to anger Russia, which has hotly criticized the United States for seeking to base other components of the defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Washington says the system is meant as defense against a possible missile attack from terrorists or rogue states.

The plan has raised hackles in Moscow, which says a U.S. military buildup in the former Soviet sphere would be interpreted as aggression directed at Russia. Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer says Russia may be worried that the United States intends to use its facilities not just for defensive, but offensive strikes as well.

"There isn't any real threat to our strategic nuclear forces whatsoever," Felgenhauer said. "Our military officials are expressing their fears that these missile silos that are going to be built in Poland could host not just antimissile systems in the future, but instead short-range offensive missiles as the silos will be made of concrete and it will be difficult to dismantle them. They are worried other types of missile-defense weapons may be deployed that in principle could have the capability of shooting down our ballistic missiles at takeoff."

Adequate Response

Russia is reacting calmly to the latest U.S. proposal, which comes as the South Caucasus countries are -- to varying degrees -- breaking ties with Russia in favor of Western integration.

Russian television showed Russia's Air Force commander, General Vladimir Mikhailov saying: "We have everything needed to adequately respond to all these deployments. They have lots of cash. Let them spend it."

Russian military analyst Aleksandr Golts says Moscow isn't likely to remain sanguine for long.

If we consider the generally phobic reactions from Russia to anything that has to do with the U.S. missile defense -- which is very convenient for all those who are engaged in propaganda saying that the Americans are surrounding us from every side -- I suspect that Russia's reaction will be very harsh and very quick," Golts said.

Obering says a radar system in the Caucasus would be "useful, but not essential." He did not specify which country he sought to base the radar in. But observers suggest that it would likely go to either Azerbaijan or Georgia.

Of the three South Caucasus countries, Armenia maintains the warmest ties with Russia.

(RFE/RL's Armenian, Azerbaijani, Georgian, and Russian services contributed to this report.)

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

SUBSCRIBE For weekly news and in-depth analysis on Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Russia's North Caucasus by e-mail, subscribe to "RFE/RL Caucasus Report."