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US pullout from Open Skies Treaty harms allies more than Russia - expert

According to the expert, Washington believes that the treaty is inconsistent with US interests

MOSCOW, May 22. /TASS/. The United States’ withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty harms NATO’s European member-states because it is highly likely that they would take the cue from Washington. When deprived of the possibility of conducting flights over Russia, they will become more dependent on US intelligence data, Editor-in-Chief of the Arsenal of the Fatherland journal Viktor Murakhovsky told TASS on Friday.

According to the expert, Washington believes that the treaty is inconsistent with US interests. The US relies on national reconnaissance satellites, which exceed the capabilities of the equipment envisaged by the treaty. Meanwhile, Washington determines NATO policy and therefore European member-states of the alliance will follow the US, he noted. Upon the withdrawal from the Treaty, these countries will lose information received during the flights over Russia under the treaty.

"Although some countries were against this at NATO talks, I’ve heard about Germany and Italy. Unlike the US, they don’t have such a grouping [of reconnaissance satellites] and they could now request US reconnaissance data from satellites. So, the Americans will solve another task - they will have another ‘leash’ for their allies," the expert noted.

For Washington, the flights over Russia are not critical, he said. Two satellites of the Key Hole series of US optical reconnaissance satellites have multispectral matrix with features, which are yet unknown for Russia. Besides, they have satellites for radar scanning of the Earth.

However, Russia has the possibilities to counter these means. Russia also has its own grouping of reconnaissance satellites. "Although we have limited capabilities of satellite reconnaissance equipment, nevertheless, they are quite enough to solve the tasks of strategic deterrence," Murakhovsky said.

US President Donald Trump announced on Thursday that Washington would withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo explained in a statement that the US decision on pulling out of the treaty would enter into force in six months from May 22.

The Treaty on Open Skies was signed in March 1992 in Helsinki by 23 member-nations of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). It was drafted with Moscow’s active participation. According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, the treaty is a major tool of strengthening trust and security. The Open Skies’ main goals are to build transparency, render assistance in monitoring compliance with existing or future arms control agreements, broaden possibilities for preventing crises and managing crisis situations. The accord establishes a program of unarmed aerial surveillance flights over the entire territory of its participants. Now, the treaty has more than 30 signatory states. Russia ratified the Treaty on Open Skies on May 26, 2001.

For the past several years, Washington has been accusing Moscow of carrying out the accord in a selective manner and of violating some of its provisions. Russia has also put forward some objections regarding the way the United States has been implementing the agreement. In 2017, Washington imposed some restrictions on Russian observation flights over its territory. Moscow came up with a tit-for-tat response some time later.