Monday, June 11, 2007

Putin once again exposes the Moron as, well . . . A moron

Putin's smart Gabala gambit

By Nikolas K Gvosdev

By proposing to base an anti-ballistic-missile system in Azerbaijan - and to have it be a joint operation between Russia and the West - Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to have caught the White House off guard. And the Russian leader, whose penchant for judo is well known, now appears ready to flip some of Washington's own arguments and statements to strengthen the case against the deployment of any such system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

The Gabala radar installation in Azerbaijan that Russia leases covers precisely the areas of the world where the threat from rogue states (or accidental launches) is most acute - the Middle East and the Indian Ocean basin. It is a bit more difficult to argue that a system based in the Czech Republic and Poland is somehow more effective at covering Iran than one in the southern Caucasus. (Interestingly, the Gabala station was once offered by Azerbaijan, in the late 1990s, to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for use as a possible base.)

After weeks of talks with senior US officials declaring they were perplexed by Russia's unwillingness to consider cooperation, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley commented in Germany: "We asked the Russians to cooperate with us on missile defense, and what we got was a willingness to do so."

Sentiment in Europe about deploying the US defense system is quite divided. No one wants to discount completely a possible threat from Iran, but many were concerned about the resurgence of tensions between Russia and the West if an East European deployment went forward. Putin's proposal now gives such critics - including those in the Czech Republic, where support for the US proposal hovers at only about 30% - a way out. They can cite, as Putin did, that an Azerbaijan-based system will cover all of Europe and that debris would not pose a risk to populated areas.

If Washington demurs from the Putin proposal, it then calls into question whether or not the United States had other "hidden" motives behind its desire to site the system in Poland and the Czech Republic - the so-called "beachhead" argument that a small system directed against Iran could then be expanded, over time, to be directed against what is a shrinking and less effective Russian nuclear arsenal.

Putin may also be wanting to demonstrate to the government of President Ilham Aliyev in Baku the "fair-weather" nature of the Americans. For years, the Azerbaijanis were quite interested in forging closer strategic ties with Washington. Putin, who claims to have discussed the Gabala proposal with Aliyev and said he received Aliyev's approval to make the offer, may also want to remind the United States that the easy distinction between "free" nations supporting the US and "unfree" ones being satellites of Moscow doesn't quite work when it comes to the Caucasus.

Putin now looks a lot more reasonable on the issue of missile defense than he did even a day ago.

Nikolas K Gvosdev is editor of The National Interest.

Original article posted here.

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