Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday said it was withdrawing from the Open Skies treaty following the US decision to exit the pact last year.
Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement that United States’ withdrawal from the Treaty on Open Skies last year substantially disturbed “the balance of interests of the participating states.” It further added that Russia had put forward proposals to retain the “viability” of the pact but did not receive support from Washington.
The ministry also said that it is beginning “domestic procedures for the Russian Federation’s withdrawal from the Open Skies treaty,” citing “lack of progress” on maintaining the functioning of the treaty under new circumstances.
The agreement which was signed soon after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1992, was intended to build trust between Russia and the West.
Coming into force in 2002, it allowed nearly three dozen signatories to carry out short-notice flights over each other’s territories to monitor potential military operations. Members include countries across Europe, the former Soviet Union, and Canada.
Russia’s announcement comes just a few days before Joe Biden is sworn in as US president. Mr. Biden has condemned the US withdrawal from Open Skies and said it increases the risk of conflict. The only remaining major defence pact between Russia and the west is set to expire next month.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump declared Washington’s intention to pull out of the Open Skies Treaty in May last year after accusing Russia of violations, including blocking flights over certain sites and prohibiting surveys of military drills. The U.S. completely withdrew from the pact in November.
The Russian foreign ministry said Friday that the US departure from the agreement was done under an “artificial pretext.” It added that Moscow had entered into negotiations with the other 33 members after the US withdrawal with “specific proposals” to secure its continued involvement – referring to demands that other NATO members would not share information gained on Russian surveillance flights with the US — but they did not support.
Nato said it had “taken note” of Russia’s intention to withdraw. On Friday, the alliance’s deputy spokesman Piers Cazalet said Russia’s “selective implementation” of its Open Skies obligations had for a while undermined the treaty’s contributions to security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic region. “All NATO Allies remain committed to effective international arms control, disarmament, and non-proliferation –- which are essential for our security,” he stated further.
The US has previously alleged that Russia violated the treaty by denying flights over its heavily militarised Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad, as well as along its border with Georgia and over military exercises. Moscow has argued that flights over Kaliningrad hosting large-scale military forces are acceptable under the terms of the Treaty, noting that the US has imposed more extensive restrictions on observation flights over Alaska.
The collapse of the treaty is a major setback for EU countries as they prized the access it gave to Russian military movements, particularly on the borders of the block. The European Union said it was “analyzing” the Russian statement and would respond later.
The treaty is scheduled to end on 5 February, until both parties are able to agree on a last-minute extension.