Russia will do everything in its power to salvage the Open Skies Treaty (OST) after the US signaled its intention to withdraw from one of the few remaining arms-control pillars, Moscow said, rejecting claims it violated the pact.
“If the US exits the Treaty, a blow will be dealt to a rather fragile balance of interests of its parties. As a result, not only the OST will suffer, but also the European security framework as a whole,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement, after US President Donald Trump announced he would be withdrawing from the agreement that allows reconnaissance planes to overfly the territory of its signatories.
In force since 2002, the treaty currently involves 35 states, including Russia and the US, and is considered to be one of the cornerstones of the global arms control mechanism, aimed at reducing the possibility of a military conflict breaking out due to the lack of transparency.
The ministry said that Russia is poised to try to resuscitate the treaty through negotiations with the US, noting that such talks should also address Russia’s own concerns over Washington not holding up its end of the bargain.
“Russia is doing everything possible to keep the treaty intact and believes it’s necessary to reconcile the existing differences through negotiations within The Open Skies Consultative Commission, taking into account concerns expressed by all parties, including problems with the US and their allies’ implementation of the treaty,” the ministry said.
Announcing the US’ intention to pull out of the agreement, Trump pointed a finger at Russia, accusing it of failing to abide by its provisions – an allegation which Moscow has categorically denied.
Recurrent talk in Washington about ditching the treaty over the pretext of alleged Russian “violations” has prompted “serious concerns” in Moscow, the ministry went on, arguing that Russia’s moves to restrict some of the flights were either a tit-for-tat response to similar restrictions imposed by US allies, or were provided for by the treaty itself.
The US is yet to send an official note to Moscow about its intent to leave the treaty. Trump administration officials who briefed the media on the reasoning behind the US move cited Russia’s restricting flights over Moscow, the republic of Chechnya, as well as near Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia recognized both as independent states in 2008, after they came under attack by the government in Tbilisi, while the US still considers them Georgian territory.
Responding to the accusation, the ministry said that while it has indeed barred observation flights within 10 kilometers of the border of the two Caucasian republics, it did so after Georgia – which is also party of the treaty – refused to heed its obligations, denying the flyover of Russian reconnaissance missions over its own territory.
Limiting the altitude of surveillance flights over the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad was done within the scope of the OST, to ensure that the region is not subject to the “more effective level of surveillance than the rest of Russia, as well as the territories of the other parties to the treaty, such as Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia,” the ministry said.
The ministry denied allegations that it flouted the agreement by preventing the US and Canada from carrying on with a scheduled flight near the Center-2019 drills, which were held in southern Russia and Central Asia in September 2019 and involved around 128,000 troops and more than 20,000 pieces of hardware.
It was impossible to ensure security of the joint US-Canadian mission at the time due to the rapidly changing situation during the active phase of the large-scale war games, the ministry explained. When offered an alternative timeframe for the flight, Washington and Ottawa refused to proceed.