Friday, December 14, 2012

Russia to Cease Using Gabala Radar Station

By Anar Valiyev

On December 10, media outlets reported that Russia will end its use of the Gabala Radar Station, located on Azerbaijan’s territory. The Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that following intensive negotiations over Gabala, the two sides were unable to reach an agreement on leasing fees. The Russian Interfax agency cited an anonymous diplomatic source who contended that the Russian withdrawal from Gabala would not negatively affect relations between Russia and Azerbaijan (Interfax, December 10).

The Head of the External Relations Department in Azerbaijan’s presidential administration, Novruz Mammadov, stressed that the Russian withdrawal from Gabala will have no negative impact on bilateral relations. He made it clear that the reason for the closure was financial and not political in nature. Concerning the future of the radar station, Mammadov said that the surrounding Gabala region is a center of tourism. It is, therefore, possible that the military installation will generally be eliminated and ruled out the possibility of leasing the Gabala radar to some other country (Trend, December 11). Arastun Orujlu, the head of the Baku-based East-West think tank, believes that Azerbaijan was not the initiator of the Russian withdrawal. Most probably, Russia received guarantees that the site will not be leased to anyone else (, December 11).

Uzeir Jafarov, a Baku-based military expert argues that the Gabala station has no practical use for Azerbaijan from a military perspective, while the environmental damage caused by its continued use was high. Therefore, the termination of this site should be considered a positive political decision (, December 11). However, he expects that the closure of Gabala will, in fact, lead to a deterioration of bilateral relations. Jafarov maintains that Gabala has little military value for Azerbaijan and Baku lacks human resources for its operations. Today, Armenia represents the major threat for Azerbaijan, but the country’s air defense system currently in place is able to successfully repulse possible Armenian air strikes without further assistance from the Gabala station. Political analyst Eldar Namazov agrees on this point, adding that the low rent being charged for Russia’s continued use of the site made it uneconomical for Azerbaijan to maintain it. However, Namazov also believes that Moscow’s loss of its military presence in Azerbaijan will negatively impact bilateral diplomatic and political relations. Time will tell how negative these consequences will be, he believes (, December 11).

Other political experts have more openly argued that Russia will take revenge for its forced withdrawal from Azerbaijan. Political observer and journalist Rauf Mirkadirov, writing the Zerkalo newspaper on December 11, asserted that Azerbaijan should expect provocations from Russia. He even compared the current situation in Azerbaijan with the situation in Georgia prior to the Russian-Georgian war in 2008, when seven months before the war, the last echelon of Russian military equipment left Georgia. Moreover, he added, with the Russian withdrawal from Azerbaijan, the significance of Armenia as the only Russian satellite in the Caucasus would increase (Zerkalo, December 11).

Notably, the Russian-Azerbaijani failure to come to an agreement on Gabala came at a point when relations between the two countries are experiencing hard times—as illustrated by the Azerbaijani president’s boycott of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) summit in Ashgabat this month (see EDM, December, 14). The next couple of months will clarify how the Russian withdrawal will affect relations between Moscow and Baku.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Russian Far Eastern Development Agency Comes Under Fire

By Sergei Blagov

It took the Kremlin little more than six months to realize that its earlier move to form a new regional development agency required some second thoughts.

On November 29, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin strongly criticized the Far Eastern development ministry, stating that its management system was not efficient. The ministry is yet to fulfill its goals; there were failures and a lack of responsibility in its operations, he said. Putin criticized the ministry’s officials for their inability to finalize the regional development blueprint that was supposed to be approved by July 1, 2012, and ordered that the draft be finalized in the first quarter of next year. In response to Putin's criticism, the Far Eastern Development Minister Viktor Ishayev argued that the ministry took over the regional development blueprint only on November 13, implying that officials were short of time to finalize the draft in the first quarter of 2013. Putin suggested reviving an earlier idea to create a state corporation tasked with developing Russia’s Far East and Siberia. Putin also told a meeting of the State Council at his Novo-Ogarevo residence outside Moscow that he was prepared to discuss other types of management solution aimed to expedite the development of the Far Eastern (The Presidential Press-Service, RG daily, November 29).

The creation of the Far Eastern development ministry came as an immediate by-product of Putins return to the Kremlin. On May 21, Russias freshly re-minted President Putin signed a decree to reform the cabinet. The reformed government included the Far Eastern development ministry that was due to coordinate the implementation of regional development programs and manage state-owned assets. The new federal ministry was specifically designed to oversee the countrys efforts to develop Far Eastern regions (Interfax, RIA-Novosti, May 21).

Ishayev, the presidential envoy to the Far East since 2009, was appointed to head the new ministry. In recent years, Ishayev has repeatedly advocated new measures to encourage economic development in the region. Putins suggestion to consider the creation of a special-purpose state corporation also hardly comes as a novelty. Last year and earlier this year, Russias government officials repeatedly advocated plans to create a state corporation tasked with developing the countrys Far East and Siberia.

In April 2012, first Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov argued the corporation could have been created as a subsidiary of the state-run Vnesheconombank (VEB). However, other state corporations have been subject to criticism for inefficient performance.

Therefore, the Kremlin appears to be running out of managerial options in the Far East: the federal agency already failed to fulfill its goals, while the efficiency of the proposed state corporation remains a matter of debate.