Azerbaijan’s president Heydar Aliyev has declared the Gabala radar station "property of Azerbaijan" by presidential decree. The measure means that the station will "never be a Russian military base," Azerbaijan’s defense minister Safar Abiev said in an interview. Abiev had discussed the issue with his Russian counterpart Pavel Grachev during the January 19 CIS summit in Moscow, when he turned down Russia’s long-standing request for basing rights at Gabala. Russia will be able to lease the station from Azerbaijan under an agreement currently being negotiated "which will state in no uncertain terms that the station is owed by Azerbaijan," Abiev said. Moscow currently owes Baku $18 million for the energy and services used by the station. Grachev has asked for a deferral of that debt payment, but Baku proposes to count the arrears against its trade debt to Russia, pending signature of a lease agreement. (18)
The former USSR and the Russian Federation have both used Gabala primarily as an early warning station against missile attack and to intercept communications in the Transcaucasus and beyond. The station is said to employ approximately 1,000 Russian military personnel; its compound currently accommodates some 4,000 Russian citizens, including military dependents.