US announces decision to leave open skies surveillance treaty

Lalit K Jha

Washington, May 22 (PTI) The United States on Thursday announced its decision to leave the Open Skies treaty, which allows 34 participating countries including Russia to fly their aircraft over each other's territory.

India is not a member of this treaty that came into force on January 1, 2002. Most of the participating countries are in North America Europe and Central Asia.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday the US will submit notice of its decision to withdraw from the Treaty on Open Skies to the Treaty Depositaries and to all other states party to the Treaty.

“Effective six months from tomorrow, the United States will no longer be a party to the Treaty,” he said, adding that the US would, however, reconsider its withdrawal should Russia return to full compliance with the Treaty.

President Donald Trump blamed Russia's non-compliance with the treaty for such a decision by the United States.

“Russia didn't adhere to the treaty, so until they adhere, we will pull out. But there's a very good chance we'll make a new agreement or do something to put that agreement back together,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

“Whenever there's an agreement that another party doesn't agree to, we have many of those agreements around the world, where it's a two-party agreement, but they don't adhere to it and we do. When we have things like that, we pull out also,” he said.

'That's why, with the arms treaties, if you look at the arms treaties, we're probably going to make a deal with Russia on arms treaty. And China will be maybe included in that. We'll see what happens,” he said. “When we have an agreement, when we have a treaty, and the other side doesn’t adhere to it -- in many cases, they’re old treaties, old agreements -- then we pull out also,” he added.

“What’s going to happen is we’re going to pull out and they’re going to come back and want to make a deal. We’ve had a very good relationship lately with Russia. And you can see that with respect to oil and what’s happening with oil,” Trump said.

In his statement, Pompeo alleged that Russia’s implementation and violation of Open Skies has undermined the central confidence-building function of the Treaty – and has, in fact, fuelled distrust and threats to US national security – making continued American participation untenable.

“While the United States along with our Allies and partners that are States Parties to the Treaty have lived up to our commitments and obligations under the Treaty, Russia has flagrantly and continuously violated the Treaty in various ways for years. This is not a story exclusive to just the Treaty on Open Skies, unfortunately, for Russia has been a serial violator of many of its arms control obligations and commitments,” Pompeo said.

Despite the Open Skies Treaty's aspiration to build confidence and trust by demonstrating through unrestricted overflights that no party has anything to hide, Russia has consistently acted as if it were free to turn its obligations off and on at will, unlawfully denying or restricting Open Skies observation flights whenever it desires, he added.

Pompeo alleged that Russia has refused access to observation flights within a 10-kilometer corridor along its border with the Russian-occupied Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, thereby attempting to advance false Russian claims that these occupied territories are independent states.

Russia's designation of an Open Skies refueling airfield in Crimea, Ukraine, is similarly an attempt to advance its claim of purported annexation of the peninsula, which the United States does not and will never accept. Russia has also illegally placed a restriction on flight distance over Kaliningrad, despite the fact that this enclave has become the location of a significant military build-up that Russian officials have suggested includes short-range nuclear-tipped missiles targeting NATO, he said.

In 2019, Russia unjustifiably denied a shared United States and Canada observation flight over a large Russian military exercise. In a tele conference with reporters, Assistant Secretary for International Security and Nonproliferation Christopher A Ford, said that Russia’s violation of the Open Skies Treaty is just one instance in a pattern of Russian violations of its arms control nonproliferation and disarmament obligations and commitments that affect European security and affect the arms control architecture.

This, of course, includes things such as its violation of the arms control treaty, which of course destroyed that treaty; its actions against Georgia and Ukraine, including its purported annexation of Crimea, which have been contrary principles set forth in the Helsinki Final Act; its purported suspension – which isn’t really a legal thing, but the word that the Russians use – of its obligations under the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, and its selective implementation of the Vienna Document, he said.

Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell in a statement alleged that for years, Russia has systematically violated the terms of the Open Skies Treaty to the detriment of the United States, its allies, and partners.

“No country should tolerate such treaty abuses and we’re taking action to right this wrong. America can’t be expected to keep its skies open to Russian monitoring flights while Russia is unwilling to reciprocate on equal terms. Russia’s treaty violations have undermined the central purpose of the treaty while imperiling its neighbors and jeopardizing U.S. national security,” Grenell said. PTI LKJ SMN SMN