So, after spending the past few weeks ratcheting up the pressure, Putin has made an about turn and offered to work on a ‘joint’ missile shield with the United States.
Details of exactly how such a scheme would work are a little sketchy at the moment, to say the least, but it seems as though the Kremlin envisage a system built primarily around the radar station they currently rent in Azerbaijan.
Dmitri Peskov, Mr Putins spokesman, insisted that a radar base in Azerbaijan would be sufficient to cover the whole of western Europe and that the use of Poland for interceptor rockets should be reconsidered. The two sides could completely share the technological data of that station with equal control of the station . . . It would lead to a substantial easing of tension and it will solve the problem.
In principle, I think it’s a good idea – and, with the benefit of my 20-20 hindsight – makes Putin’s brinkmanship of the past few weeks seem much more logical. Lets face it, Russia is at much at risk of missile attack from ‘rogue’ nations or terrorist groups as Western Europe and the United States – if not more so – and a joint missile shield does seem the logical way forward.
But will it happen in practice? I can see plenty of potential problems.
For starters, there is the whole trust issue. An effective joint shield would require a lot of actual joint working, and there isn’t a lot of evidence to suggest that Russia and the US could work well together on such a politically charged project. Although, having said that, there’s always a first time for everything…
Technical issues are also going to come to the forefront. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, although welcoming Russia’s joint missile shield proposal, argued that a shield located in Azerbaijan wouldn’t be able to react in time to incoming missiles:
“It’s a bit close to the rogue states we are discussing.”
A shield located primarily in Azerbaijan wouldn’t cover all of NATO’s member states either.
I suppose this could be overcome by stationing the main radar in Azerbaijan, and the interceptor missiles somewhere else – say, in Poland – but for this would not only require phenomenal co-ordination, but would still probably require radars to be stationed too close to Russia’s Western borders. And wasn’t the whole point of Azerbaijan to avoid that…?
Ultimately, I don’t think this is anything more than a good idea, destined to failure – but I’d be happy to be proved wrong.
Update: For the true cynics among us, here another explantion as to why Putin offered to develop a joint missile shield based in Azerbaijan:
I think that the Russian base, there in Qabala [Azerbaijan] is getting ready — they’re going to lose the base, the lease on the base is going to expire, and they’ve already been making plans to relocate the radar to Krasnodar [Krai, in Russia]. And so what they’re trying to do here is legitimize their presence in Azerbaijan at the expense of the Azerbaijanis. And they will also permanently make the United States a target of the Iranians, and the Azeris, and it’s designed to divide the United States and Azerbaijan. And it creates a Russian military presence there, if I understand the statement correctly.
Cunning, or what?