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Russia ceases use of radar station in Azerbaijan

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The Gabala radar station watched for potential attacks from the south of Azerbaijan, which shares a border with Iran.

BAKU, AZERBAIJAN (AP): Russia has ceased using an early-warning radar station based in neighbouring Azerbaijan after the two countries failed to reach an agreement on extending the lease.

Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry on Monday said that the decision was taken after talks failed on renewing a 10-year lease dating from 2002.

The Gabala radar station watched for potential attacks from the south of Azerbaijan, which shares a border with Iran.

Media in Russia had earlier reported that the two sides disagreed over financial terms. Some reports claimed Azerbaijan was seeking up to USD 300 million annual rent, up from earlier demands for USD 15 million.

Moscow had until now paid USD 7 million per year for use of the radio station, which was built in 1985, when Azerbaijan was still part of the Soviet Union.

Azerbaijan confirmed that no understanding had been reached on payment, but offered no detail on the sums.

Military experts believe, however, that the commissioning of the newer Voronezh-DM radar station near the town of Armavir in Russia's southern Krasnodar region may have made the Gabala installation redundant.

Voronezh-DM is believed to cover the same general area as the Gabala radar station, which has a range of around 6,000 kilometers and covers most of the Middle East.

The Moscow-based Interfax news agency quoted a Russian military source as saying that the decision to suspend use of the radar station would not harm relations with Azerbaijan, which has increasingly been leaning toward the West in recent years.

Western military officials have in the past shown tentative interest in possibly integrating the Gabala station into NATO's air defence system.

NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow told Russian radio station Ekho Mosky in a May interview that the military alliance had not ruled out using the facility jointly with Russia. Moscow has shown no enthusiasm for that solution.

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