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Russia withdraws from the Open Skies Treaty

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Russia has started the procedure for withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty (OST) due to what it believes is the unacceptable situation around the agreement after the US withdrawal, writes Moscow Correspondent Alexi Ivanov.
This is stated in the comments of the official representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova.  Earlier on 15 January, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced the launch of procedures for exiting the OST.

"Due to the lack of progress in removing obstacles to the continued operation of the Treaty in the new conditions, the Russian Foreign Ministry is authorized to announce the start of domestic procedures for the withdrawal of the Russian Federation from the OST”, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia: "The US withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty radically changed the configuration laid down in the formation of the open skies regime, and violated the balance of interests of the participating states.
From the very beginning, we warned about the serious consequences of such a step for the OST and for European security in general."

U.S. participation in the Treaty and the ability to monitor American territory was one of the most important conditions for its entry into force. It is with this factor in mind that our parliament ratified the OST in 2001, thereby giving consent to observation flights over the entire territory of Russia. The consequences for European security are also obvious – one of its pillars has been hit. Washington has sent a signal to the OSCE participating States that this support is not important and can simply be ignored.

To give the "euphony" its steps Washington accused Russia of alleged bad performance of the Contract. We repeatedly disavowed all American attacks and gave reasoned answers.
Our well-founded claims were stubbornly ignored by the United States.
So, in 2015, the United States generally refused to allow the Russian AN-30B surveillance aircraft to enter/exit its territory. Given the fact that the long-range Tu-154M-Lk1 observation aircraft was under repair at that time, such a refusal meant the complete closure of their territories for Russian observation flights.
For more than 13 years, the United States delayed the formulation of rules for conducting flights over its remote island territories and thereby closed them from observation missions. In violation of the Treaty, the United States established a maximum range of flights over the territory of Hawaii based not on an open-sky airfield, but from a refueling airfield and illegally reduced observation capabilities by 260 km.
In 2017, the American side canceled stops for night rest of the crews of Russian surveillance aircraft at the Robins and Ellsworth refueling airfields. Taking into account the norms of maximum loads on the crew, this grossly violated the rights of Russia to perform observation flights. In 2017, the United States included the range of transit flight over the waters of the open sea in the maximum range of observation flight. Thus, they significantly reduced the effectiveness of monitoring their territory.
Despite all these gross violations of the Treaty by the United States, Russia continued to fulfill its obligations under the OST. When the United States withdrew from the Treaty and withdrew from its obligations to receive observation flights over its territory, the tendency to destroy the Treaty became irreversible.
But even in these circumstances, the Russian Federation made every possible effort to save the Treaty and offered the remaining states of the Treaty to provide firm guarantees of compliance with their obligations not to transfer to the Americans data obtained during observation flights over Russian territory. At the same time, we requested, in accordance with the Treaty, to confirm our readiness to ensure the possibility of monitoring their entire territory, including the US military facilities located there.
We have started painstaking work with our partners to resolve Russian concerns. We counted on a constructive approach from the Western countries, which so loudly declared their commitment to the OST. However, their political orientation towards the United States proved to be more important for them than preserving an important instrument of pan-European security.
They evaded a direct answer, pointed out that the relevant obligations were allegedly already contained in the Contract itself, and suggested continuing the discussion in the working bodies of the OST. All this looks like an artificial delaying of the issue in a situation when – according to our information from various sources-Washington, in the course of contacts with European allies, requires them to commit to sharing with the Americans surveillance data on the territory of Russia.
The current situation is absolutely unacceptable for us, since in fact all NATO members would still have the opportunity to observe the entire territory of Russia, and the territory of the alliance's leader-the United States-was closed from Russian surveillance. Taking into account the above circumstances, the country's leadership decided to start internal procedures for Russia's withdrawal from the OST," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in an official statement.

As Zakharova noted, responding to a media request to comment on the situation, after the US withdrawal from the agreement, Moscow began " painstaking work with partners to resolve Russian concerns."

"We counted on a constructive approach from the Western countries, which so loudly declared their commitment to the OST. However, their political orientation towards the United States turned out to be more significant for them than preserving an important instrument of pan-European security, " the representative of the Foreign Ministry stressed.

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She noted that after Washington withdrew from the agreement and withdrew from its obligations to receive observation flights, "the tendency to destroy the treaty has become irreversible."

But even in these conditions, the Russian Federation has made every possible effort to save the treaty and offered the remaining states parties to provide firm guarantees of compliance with their obligations not to transfer to the Americans data obtained during observation flights over Russian territory, " Zakharova said in a comment.

According to Zakharova, Moscow has received information from various sources that Washington has demanded that its European partners provide surveillance data for the territory of Russia. "The current situation is absolutely unacceptable for us, since, in fact, all NATO members would still have the opportunity to observe the entire territory of Russia, and the territory of the alliance's leader-the United States-was closed from Russian surveillance. Taking into account the above circumstances, the country's leadership decided to start internal procedures for Russia's withdrawal from the OST," the representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs concluded.

The Open Skies Treaty was signed in 1992 and became one of the confidence-building measures in Europe after the Cold War. The agreement has been in force since 2002 and allows its members to openly collect information about each other's armed forces and activities. Until recently, 34 States were parties to the treaty. At the end of May, US President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of his country. The reason for this, according to Washington, was repeated violations on the part of Russia.
In particular, the United States accused Moscow of using the 'Open Sky' as a tool of “military coercion".

On the night of 22 November 2020, the United States completed the withdrawal procedure. Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that this decision by Washington "makes the treaty unviable."

Russia announced its withdrawal from the treaty on January 15, 2021. The Tu-214ON aircraft that were used under the agreement will continue to be operated as reconnaissance aircraft. To do this, they will be equipped with special equipment, as reported with reference to military sources.

"After the final termination of the Russian Federation's participation in the contract, both Tu-214ON aircraft are planned to be re-qualified for other tasks. We are talking primarily about intelligence functions and monitoring the security of our own military facilities."

According to experts, the aircraft can also be used to objectively monitor the results of tests of various weapons and assess the effectiveness of exercises.

European members of the OST expressed regret over Washington's decision. In a joint statement on May 22, 2020, 11 Western European countries stressed that the Treaty is "an essential element of the confidence-building system that has been established in recent decades to increase transparency and security in the Euro-Atlantic region." Germany, France, and the United Kingdom declared their commitment to the document.

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