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Russia says Turkey systematically violates Open Skies Treaty

February 05, 2016, 10:20 UTC+3

Turkey's military refused to confirm they agree with the memorandum on safety of flights above Syria well before the attack on the Russian Sukhoi Su-24M bomber

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© AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda

MOSCOW, February 5. /TASS/. Turkey’s systematic violations of the Open Skies Treaty create a precedent when the control over military activity of one of the signatories is impossible, Deputy Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said on Friday.

Earlier this week, Turkey violated the Open Skies Treaty by refusing to allow Russian inspectors to carry out an observation flight scheduled for February 1-5. Turkey said the sides had failed to agree on its itinerary. Moscow says Ankara had no right to deny the observation flight. Russia’s Defense Ministry says Turkey attempts to hide illicit military activity on the border with Syria and suspects that Ankara is preparing to invade the territory of the adjacent state.

This is not the first case when Ankara violates its international commitments, Antonov said.

"In December 2015, the Turkish side closed for the Russian observation aircraft a part of airspace along the Syrian border and the Diyarbakir airfield (housing NATO aviation) earlier provided for use for the treaty’s aims," Antonov said.

In October 2015, Turkey advised "in a mandatory manner" to delay the Russian observation mission due to carrying out a security operation. Russia agreed and postponed the flight, Antonov said.

In 2014, a Turkish escort group said it was impossible to ensure the flights’ security in certain areas of the country’s airspace citing intense flights of combat aviation involved in the anti-terrorism operation. In February 2013, Ankara closed for observation the positions of the Patriot surface-to-air missile system in southern Turkey, he said.

Russia will not wind down work in framework of Treaty on Open Skies and Vienna document

The deputy minister stressed that Russia will not wind down cooperation in the framework of Treaty on Open Skies and Vienna document though several OSCE members abuse provisions of these agreements.

"We are satisfied with this format, and our delegation is in Vienna. We do not consider it necessary to wind down work," Antonov said.

"When we developed these documents, we did not think that countries will make steps to circumvent provisions of the document or misuse these or those provisions, abuse their power, take advantage of several provisions of documents to reach their goals," the deputy defense minister noted.

The Treaty on Open Skies was signed in 1992, Russia ratified it in 2001. More than 30 countries are signatories to the Treaty. It establishes a program of unarmed aerial surveillance flights over the entire territory of its participants.

The Vienna Document on Confidence and Security-Building Measures was signed in 2011. It envisages annual exchange of military information about forces located in Europe, notifications for risk reduction including consultations about unusual military activities, prior notification of certain military activities, observation of certain military activities, exchange of annual calendars, and compliance and verification by inspection and evaluation visits.

Turkey refused to confirm agreement on safety of flights above Syria

According to Antonov, Turkish aviation should observe in full measure Russian-US Memo on Air Safety Over Syria.

"Such assurances came from the United States," Antonov told journalists.

The official said Turkey's military, a party to the international coalition fighting the Islamic State (IS), refused to confirm they agree with the memorandum on safety of flights above Syria well before the attack on the Russian Sukhoi Su-24M bomber.

"Under the memorandum, the US side undertook the obligation not only to inform all the coalition members on the agreement, but also to guarantee its all members will observe strictly all provisions of that document," he said. "We have a written confirmation from the US saying Washington has fulfilled all formalities in relations with counterparts."

"However, the Turkish military, who formally are members of the US coalition, refused to confirm they adhere to the memorandum by saying this matter is a competence of the foreign ministry. Moreover, they unilaterally blocked the hot line as they would not respond to our urgent requests. Thus, on November 24, Turkey's Air Force savagely downed the Russian bomber, where Russian military were killed," he added.

He reminded that after Turkish aviation downed Russian military jet in Syria, an air defense group has been set up. "It allows to spot in advance threats to Russian jets performing military tasks in Syria and, if necessary, take adequate measures to ensure their flight safety," the deputy defense minister noted.

Memorandum on safety flights above Syria could be start of coordinating fight against terrorism

The Russian Defense Ministry made the decision to ink the memorandum on safe flight operations over Syria as it considered it as a start point for further coordination of the fight against terrorism, Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov told reporters on Friday.

He said Russia had suggested to the U.S. and its coalition "a wide range of cooperation," including exchange of data on targets in Syria, organization of communication channels and joint actions to search and rescue pilots in case of accidents.

"The US rejected our suggestions on a wide cooperation, saying the countries had different objectives. The Americans only signed the document for clearly technical aspects to prevent conflict situation in the Syrian air space," he said. "We agreed to it hoping the memorandum could be a start point in establishment of a full-fledged coordination of the efforts in fighting the international terrorism."

Russia has been coordinating efforts with other countries, fighting terrorists, the deputy minister said. For example, he mentioned the information center in Bagdad, in the work of which participate Russia, Iraq, Syria and Iran, as well as "cooperation and lines of operative communication with Israel, Jordan and other countries."

Earlier reports said the Russian military had established contacts with representatives of the Syrian opposition. The General Staff said the Russian strikes supported daily actions of the opposition, and the Russian grouping received information from the opposition regarding every fifth target.

Two anti-IS coalitions

Russia’s aviation grouping has been delivering air strikes against the Islamic State terrorist organization in Syria since September 30 at the request of Syria’s President Bashar Assad.

From November 17, the Russian aviation grouping in Syria switched to delivering massive strikes against militants, including with the involvement of strategic bombers. As the Russian Defense Ministry reported, Russia’s air grouping has focused on destroying terrorist-controlled oil extraction, storage, transportation and refining facilities.

Since 2014, the US-led coalition has also been delivering air strikes against militants in Syria and Iraq

Moscow and Washington earlier signed a memorandum on safe flights over Syria to prevent any air incidents between warplanes of the Russian air group and the US-led coalition.

Russia’s Defense Ministry has numerously urged foreign counterparts to exchange information on targets in Syria but the Pentagon has repeatedly said that it won’t provide reconnaissance data to Russia as long as Moscow supports Assad.

Meanwhile, Russia and France agreed in late November on coordinating their activities against terrorists.

The Federation Council, the upper house of Russia’s parliament, convened on September 30 to approve Russian President Vladimir Putin’s request for the use of the country’s armed forces in Syria against the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist groupings.

On the same day, Russia’s Air and Space Force started to deliver the first pinpointed air strikes against the militants’ positions. The Russian aviation grouping comprises more than 50 aircraft and helicopters, including the Sukhoi Su-34 and Su-24M bombers, Su-25 attack aircraft, Su-30SM fighters and Mil Mi-8 and Mi-24 helicopters.

Also, overnight to October 7, the Caspian Flotilla ships delivered a massive strike on the IS objectives in Syria, using Kalibr NK shipborne cruise missiles.

The Russian authorities have said on many occasions that Russia’s armed forces would not take part in any ground operation in Syria.

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