MOSCOW, May 26. /TASS/. Russia has a right to ban observation flights within a 10-kilometer zone along the borders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in compliance with the Treaty on Open Skies, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Tuesday.
"Our position firmly rests on the provisions of the treaty which provides for denial of monitoring flights within a ten-kilometer zone from the borders of states that are not signatories to that treaty," he said, adding that the United States is citing Russia’s refusal to allow flight along the border of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as an evidence to Russia’s breaching the Open Skies Treaty.
"The fact that our Western colleagues do not recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states changes nothing. This is our position and it relies on international law," Lavrov stressed.
According to the Russian top diplomat, Washington’s claims concerning the range of flights over Russia’s westernmost Kaliningrad Region are groundless as well, since the regime of monitoring flights over this region set by Russia under the Open Skies Treaty is identical to that set by the United States for flights over Alaska. "We have set distance limits for flights over the Kaliningrad Region taking into account its geographical specifics and using the US-set precedent in respect of Alaska. Both the Kaliningrad Region and Alaska are semi-exclaves as follows from their geographical location — the Kaliningrad Region for us and Alaska for the United States," Lavrov explained.
"Our stance is that both in Alaska and in the Kaliningrad Region there is one Open Skies airdrome each for making observation flights over territories. Like in Alaska, where an upper limit for flight distance has been set under the addendum to the Open Skies Treaty, we have set such a limit for flights over the Kaliningrad Region," he said, adding that images of around 98% of Kaliningrad Region’s territory can be taken during one flight whereas not more than three percent of Alaska’s territory can be surveyed during such a flight.
US President Donald Trump declared on May 21 that Washington was going to withdraw from the Treaty on Open Skies, which provides for inspection flights over member countries’ territories to monitor military activities. He motivated this step by Russia’s alleged violation of the treaty. US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said in a written statement that the decision to withdraw from the treaty will come into effect in six months after May 22.
Moscow denies these accusations and puts forward counterclaims. Thus, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Russia already voiced its own claims to the United States concerning this treaty’s implementation. According to Vladimir Yermakov, director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Non-Proliferation and Arms Control Department, Washington’s attempts to picture its withdrawal from the treaty as a reaction to Russia’s breaches are absolutely groundless.
Analysis of situation around Open Skies
Russia will be guided by its own interests while thoroughly analyzing the situation around the Treaty on Open Skies, the Russian foreign minister stated.
"We will not go into hysterics. We will thoroughly analyze this situation and will be guided, first of all, by our nationals' interests and the interests of our allies, including Belarus, which forms a single group of countries with us under this treaty," he said.
He recalled that the signatory nations are to convene an extraordinary conference over the United States’ statements on the withdrawal from the treaty. It is to be called not earlier than a month but not later than two months after Washington declared its intention. "The treaty’s depositories are currently working on possible dates," he said, adding that a regular review conference on the Open Skies Treaty is scheduled for October.
The Treaty on Open Skies was signed in March 1992 in Helsinki by 23 member nations of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The main purposes of the open skies regime are to develop transparency, render assistance in monitoring compliance with the existing or future arms control agreements, broaden possibilities for preventing crises and managing crisis situations. The treaty 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.