Russian President offers alternative to planned US missile defence shield in Central Europe

George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin, photo: CTK

Russian President Vladimir Putin made a surprise proposal during the G8 summit in the German resort of Heilegendamm on Thursday when he offered to his US counterpart George Bush to share a base to detect missile attacks. Mr Putin offered President Bush the joint use of a Russian radar station in Azerbaijan as an alternative to US plans to station parts of a missile shield in the Czech Republic and Poland, an idea fiercely criticised by Russia. Czech officials have so far adopted a 'wait and see' attitude to Moscow's proposal.

George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin,  photo: CTK
Russia has angrily opposed the US plans to extend its missile shield to Poland and the Czech Republic with President Putin threatening to aim Russian missiles at European targets. Now Mr Putin's latest idea involves using a former Soviet radar in Azerbaijan. The facility continues to operate under an agreement between Russia and the Azerbaijan government and information from that radar site could be provided to the United States and other countries in Europe.

President Bush called the proposal interesting and suggested military experts from both sides should meet, put their proposals on the table and try and come up with a solution that would provide protection to all three regions - the United States, Europe as well as Russia.

Czech Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanova called Mr Putin's offer for a joint base in Azerbaijan "a bolt out of the blue", nevertheless she welcomed the possibility that the US, NATO and Russia might begin to cooperate on anti-missile defence. That view is shared by Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg and also Czech Prime Minister, Mirek Topolanek who welcomed the fact that Mr Putin is willing to seek agreement. However, the Czech Prime Minister is reserved to the latest proposal.

"I see it as an effort by Vladimir Putin to maintain a sphere of influence in Central Europe. It may not be such an accommodating idea as it first appears. But without more details I cannot comment further."

In the meantime, negotiations are in process on the possible stationing of a US radar base between the Czech and the US sides. Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek:

"By July, we now need to submit our response to the draft contracts of mainly technical nature. At the moment it is mostly preparations of contracts within the NATO Status of Forces, which is a key contract on the deployment of foreign units on our territory. But at some stage a decision will have to be made on the exact location and the specific conditions under which the radar might be stationed."