WASHINGTON – The United States has told Russia it will not join an arms control deal that allows member countries to conduct surveillance flights on the territory of others, accusing Moscow of violating the agreement.
The decision not to re-enter the Open Skies Treaty came just weeks before a planned summit between President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva. The US decision leaves only one major arms control agreement between the two nuclear powers, the New START Treaty. Biden has agreed to extend the deal for another five years.
“The United States regrets that the Open Skies Treaty was undermined by Russian violations,” a State Department spokesperson told NBC News. “In concluding its review of the treaty, therefore, the United States does not intend to seek to join it as Russia has taken no steps to return to compliance.”
The spokesperson also said that recent actions by Russia, including in Ukraine, did not indicate that it was a partner “committed to building confidence”. Russia recently deployed large numbers of troops, tanks and planes near Ukraine’s borders before cutting back on what it called an “exercise.”
Deputy State Secretary Wendy Sherman informed Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov of the decision on Thursday, the spokesperson said.
Signed by the United States in 1992 and entered into force in 2002, the treaty allows unarmed observation planes to fly over countries’ territories to observe military forces. The agreement aimed to promote transparency and defuse potential tensions between Russia and the West.
The 34 Treaty Member States carried out 1,500 observation flights until October 2019.
Former President Donald Trump announced the United States’ exit from the treaty last year, but officials in Washington and Moscow had considered the possibility that the two sides could reintegrate. The lower house of the Russian parliament voted to withdraw from the agreement last week.
Russia has dismissed US accusations that it failed to respect the treaty and lambasted Trump’s decision to quit the pact.
Some US arms control experts criticized the US move, saying the treaty was a useful tool to prevent inadvertent conflict or crisis.
“It is both unfortunate and dangerous that the United States has decided to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, and Russia’s decision to do the same only makes the situation worse,” said Jon Wolfsthal, director of the Open Skies Treaty. Nuclear Crisis Group and senior advisor to Global Zero, an international organization dedicated to the elimination of all nuclear weapons.
“Open Skies was designed to make it more difficult for states to secretly amass forces and to invade or intervene across another state’s border,” he said. “In today’s environment, where any small conflict of power can quickly escalate, Open Skies is needed more than ever.”
While observational flights are not as good at collecting information as sophisticated satellites, supporters of the treaty have argued that the flights offer a way to build confidence and avoid potential miscalculations.
Over the years, US officials have accused Russia of restricting access to open-air flights over the strategic Kaliningrad area, over Moscow and along the border between Russia and Georgian regions. South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
The United States responded to the limitations imposed by Russia by limiting the duration of flights over Hawaii and by denying access to two United States Air Force bases used during Russian missions over the United States. United.
Kingston Reif, director of disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association, said the move was “unfortunate but not surprising.”
As a presidential candidate, Biden sharply criticized Trump for abandoning the treaty. But administration officials found their options to revive the treaty to be “extremely limited” given the fallout from Trump’s decision, according to Reif.
“The evisceration of the treaty reinforces the importance for the United States and Russia to resume a regular dialogue on strategic stability and security and to pursue effective measures to reduce the risks of miscalculation and conflict”, did he declare.