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Russian diplomat denies weapons deployment in Nagorny Karabakh

RIA Novosti

29/11/2007 17:12 BAKU, November 29 (RIA Novosti) - Russia is not deploying weaponry in the disputed Nagorny Karabakh territory, scene of a 1988-1994 conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia that left 30,000 people dead, a Russian diplomat said on Thursday.

Moscow recently withdrew from a Soviet-era military base in Georgia, transferring military equipment and staff to Armenia, yet Azerbaijan officials and media have accused Russia of subsequently deploying these weapons in the Nagorny Karabakh conflict zone.

However, the Russian ambassador in Azerbaijan, Vasily Istratov, told a RIA Novosti news conference that, "Military equipment transferred to a Russian military base in Armenia remains in the hands of Russian servicemen."

"Russian and Azeri defense ministers discussed this issue [the deployment of weaponry in Nagorny Karabakh] on numerous occasions," he went on, adding that Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov was currently on a two-day visit to Azerbaijan where he had signed a plan of bilateral military cooperation for 2008 with the country's leadership.

The Russian 102nd military base in Gyumri, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) from the Armenian capital Yerevan, is part of a joint air defense system of the Commonwealth of Independent States, which was deployed in Armenia in 1995.

The 5,000-personnel base operates under the authority of the Russian group of forces in the South Caucasus, and is equipped with S-300 (SA-10 Grumble) air defense systems and MiG-29 Fulcrum fighters.

The Russian diplomat also reaffirmed that Moscow did not have plans to build a second military base in Armenia.

The conflict between the two former Soviet republics over Nagorny Karabakh first erupted in 1988 when the territory proclaimed independence from Azerbaijan in order to join Armenia.

A ceasefire was announced in 1994, and Nagorny Karabakh remained in Armenian hands. However, tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia have persisted, with some 100 people having died since the ceasefire came into effect.

Istratov also said the future of the Gabala radar Russia leases from Azerbaijan until 2012 would be decided by Azeri leadership.

"This [the future of the radar] depends on several factors...But the most important is that the radar belongs to Azerbaijan, and if anyone has the right to decide what to do with the [radar] station, it is, first and foremost, the owner - Azerbaijan," the Russian diplomat said, adding that the radar could remain operational beyond 2012.

Russia had earlier offered the U.S. the use of Gabala radar as an alternative to Washington's plans to deploy interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic.

The Gabala radar, located near the town of Minchegaur, 120 kilometers (75 miles) from the capital Baku, was leased to Russia for 10 years in 2002.

It has been operational since early 1985. Russia says that its range of 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles) makes it the most powerful in the region and able to detect missile launches in Asia, the Middle East and parts of Africa.

However, the U.S. has insisted that the Gabala radar could only be used as an addition to the European missile shield.

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