Russia says leaving Open Skies military treaty
Russia’s foreign ministry said on Friday it was withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty, which would undermine the Cold War defense agreement that would allow its signatories to conduct unarmed surveillance flights over each other’s territories.
The ministry calls “lack of progress” in maintaining the functioning of the treaty after the United States withdrew from it last year.
The treaty was signed shortly after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1992 and entered into force in 2002.
This allowed its nearly three dozen signatories to conduct short-notice flights over each other’s territory to monitor potential military operations.
Members include countries across Europe, the former Soviet Union and Canada.
Last year, Washington announced it would leave the treaty after accusing Russia of violations, including blocking flights over certain sites and banning recordings of military exercises.
Russia’s foreign ministry said on Friday that the United States had used a “fictitious pretext” for its withdrawal and “disturbed the balance of interests of the participating states”.
The ministry said Russia had submitted proposals to maintain the “viability” of the treaty, but that it had not received support from Washington.
The treaty allows its members to request copies of images taken during surveillance flights performed by other members.
The supervised country is warned 72 hours before a flight and 24 hours notice of the flight route, on which it may propose amendments.
Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the Russian parliament’s main house, said Moscow’s decision to leave the Open Skies was “predictable” as the other member states did not meet its conditions.
In a Facebook post on Friday, the legislature said Russia was asking the remaining signatories to confirm that they would not transfer information obtained under the Open Skies agreement to Washington.
The United States, like many members of the Open Skies Treaty, is part of the NATO alliance.
“The blame for what is happening – and this is a very unfortunate scenario – is entirely on the United States and NATO allies,” Kosachev wrote.
NATO Deputy Spokesman Piers Cazalet said Russia’s selective implementation of its Open Skies duties had long undermined the contributions of the treaty to regional security.
“All NATO allies remain committed to effective international arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation – essential to our security,” Cazalet said in a statement.
The Open Skies Treaty is one of the three major treaties that Washington abandoned under the administration of outgoing President Donald Trump.
In 2018, the United States withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran Agreement, which curbed Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing international sanctions.
Iran has suspended several of its own commitments under the 2015 agreement in retaliation.
Washington has also withdrawn from the treaty between the Middle Range Nuclear Forces (INF) and Russia, which is already further hampering tensions between Moscow and Washington, which have reached their lowest point since the end of the Cold War in recent years.
With President-elect Joe Biden to take office next week, one of the first challenges he faces in bilateral relations with Russia is negotiations over the extension of the New START Treaty.
The agreement, which is Washington’s last remaining treaty agreement with Moscow, will expire on February 5.