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Russia to seek firm guarantees that parties to Open Skies Treaty meet their commitments

Russian diplomats said the US withdrawal from the treaty did not increase security of the US and its allies
Russian Foreign Ministry Anton Novoderzhkin/TASS
Russian Foreign Ministry
© Anton Novoderzhkin/TASS

MOSCOW, November 22. /TASS/. Russia will seek firm guarantees that the remaining parties to the Treaty on Open Skies will meet their commitments in full, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Sunday in connection with the US withdrawal from the treaty.

"Now, after withdrawing from the Treaty on Open Skies, the US side expects that its allies, on the one hand, will hinder Russian observation flights above US military facilities in Europe and on the other hand, share with Washington their files on photo surveillance of Russia’s territory. Certainly, this is unacceptable for Russia," the ministry stated.

"We will seek firm guarantees that the remaining parties to the Treaty on Open Skies meet their commitments. First, on ensuring the possibility of observing their entire territory and second, on non-transfer of files on observation flights to third countries, which are not participants of the Treaty on Open Skies," the ministry stated.

Moscow states that if other member-states want Russia to keep its membership in the agreement, they should think how to allay its fears. Meanwhile, Russian diplomats said the US withdrawal from the treaty did not increase security of the US and its allies.

"Now many in the West ask a question how Russia will react [to the US withdrawal from the agreement]? The answer is simple. We have repeatedly stated that we are open to all options," the ministry stated. "We are carefully watching and analyzing how the words of other parties to the Treaty match their actions. Judging by security interests of Russia and our allies we will take relevant decisions."

US withdrawal

Washington’s stance on the Treaty on Open Skies worsened after Russian flights over US soil became normal practice and also after Russia started using digital equipment for surveillance, according to the statement. Since that moment, the Americans began to create obstacles for the treaty’s implementation, the diplomats said.

"The United States arrogantly ignored our proposals on ironing out these problems, while insisting on the immediate satisfaction of its claims, the answers to which we have repeatedly given. Realizing that in order to reach an agreement, Washington should should take reciprocal steps aimed at allaying Russian concerns, they interrupted the consultations and began accusing our country of "violating" the Treaty," the ministry said. "These far-fetched accusations were used by them as a pretext, first to take "countermeasures" and then to withdraw from the Treaty. "

According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, Washington deliberately sought to undermine the treaty and the statement that the US was ready to remain a party to it in case of certain steps from Russia in fact were just aimed at misleading European countries’ leadership.

On May 21, US President Donald Trump declared that Washington was going to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, which provides for inspection flights over member countries’ territories to monitor military activities. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo explained in a written statement that the decision on Washington’s withdrawal from the agreement would enter into force in six months, starting from May 22, i.e. on November 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). 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 33 signatory states. Russia ratified the Treaty on Open Skies on May 26, 2001.

For the past several years, Washington has been accusing Moscow of implementing the treaty 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 certain restrictions on Russian observation flights above its territory; Moscow came up with a tit-for-tat response some time later.