by Alexandros Petersen
Washington (UPI) Feb 7, 2013
disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
Late last month, Russia’s foreign minister confirmed that his country’s forces are in the process of vacating a major radar station in Azerbaijan. The Gabala radar was a vital part of Russia’s late Cold War missile tracking system, covering all of the Middle East, Iran, Pakistan and even as far as India.
Of all of Russia’s post-Soviet military installations in the volatile Caucasus, it was the only one that was geared toward external threats, as opposed to security within the region. It is therefore very significant that Russia is leaving.
All the more noteworthy is that Moscow’s forces were asked to leave by the Azerbaijani government and the Kremlin complied.
To put this in context, one of Russia’s only influential levers against its former Soviet colonies is its continued military presence in many of them, from a major multifaceted military network centered on the Gyumri base in Armenia to a minor air base in Kyrgyzstan. Tajikistan hosts 7,000 troops from Russia’s 201st Motorized Division. Ukraine is home to Russia’s crumbling Black Sea Fleet in and around Sebastopol. Both of these deployments are set to remain until 2042 as part of agreements in which Russian President Vladimir Putin strong-armed the leadership of both countries.
Russian forces don’t leave their posts without a fight. In fact, the norm is for Moscow to push for increased presence, as it has done in Kyrgyzstan, while lobbying vociferously for the ouster of U.S. forces from the air transfer station at Manas.