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    Thursday, June 7, 2007

    Missile shield for Azerbaijan?

    The latest from the G-8 summit is that Vladimir Putin is offering a "compromise" proposal that would see the American missile shield - which Washington plans to base in Poland and the Czech Republic - replaced by a joint NATO-Russian effort that would be established in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan.

    It's a clever play by Putin. If, as the Bush Administration has always claimed, the shield is intended to defend Europe against missiles from rogue states like Iran, why not have the radar station and interceptors stationed in Azerbaijan, right next to the Iranian border? If the Bushies say no, they'll make it look like the Kremlin was right to be concerned, and that the system is an anti-Russian measure that could eventually be expanded to take away part or all of Moscow's strategic deterrent capability.

    Having threatened to point Russian missiles at Europe if the current missile shield plan is implemented, Putin has made it very difficult for the U.S. to say no to what sounds like a very reasonable proposal. And by volunteering Azerbaijan, he's picked a country where Russia retains wide influence, rather than the staunchly pro-Western Poland and Czech Republic.

    National Security Adviser Steve Hadley is the only American official to respond so far, and he's called Putin's suggestion an "interesting proposal."

    He might have added that Vladimir Vladimirovich is a hell of a poker player.

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