US Says It Will Not Join Open Skies Treaty With Russia

US Says It Will Not Join Open Skies Treaty With Russia

The United States told Russia on Thursday it would not join the Open Skies arms control pact, which allows unarmed surveillance flights over member countries, a US official reportedly said.
Citing unnamed U.S. officials, The Associated Press reported that Assistant Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told the Russians that the Biden administration had decided not to re-enter the treaty, which had authorized surveillance flights over the military installations in both countries before President Donald Trump withdrew from the Covenant.

Thursday’s decision means that only one major arms control treaty between nuclear powers – the new START treaty – will remain in place. Trump had done nothing to extend the new START, which would have expired earlier this year, but after taking office, the Biden administration acted quickly to extend it for five years and opened a review on the withdrawal from the treaty. Trump’s Open Skies.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in January that the US withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty “had significantly upset the balance of interests of the signatory states,” adding that Moscow’s proposals to keep the treaty in force had been greeted with coldness by the allies of Washington. [File: Susan Walsh/AP Photo]

Officials said the review was complete and Sherman informed Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov of the US decision not to return to Open Skies on Thursday. Officials were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The move came ahead of a meeting between President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 16 in Geneva, Switzerland. They will try to find common ground amid a sharp deterioration in relationships that have sunk relationships to their lowest point in decades.

The Open Skies Treaty was intended to build confidence between Russia and the West by allowing the more than three dozen signatories to the agreement to conduct reconnaissance flights over their respective territories to collect information on military forces and activities.

More than 1,500 flights have been carried out under the treaty since its entry into force in 2002, aimed at promoting transparency and enabling oversight of arms control and other agreements.

The lower house of the Russian parliament voted on May 19 to withdraw from the treaty [File: The Federal Assembly of The Russian Federation via AP]

The Trump administration announced the U.S. withdrawal from the treaty last year, and Russia’s lower house of parliament voted last week to follow suit. But until Thursday, both sides had said the treaty could still be saved. Russian officials have said they are prepared to reconsider their withdrawal if the United States does the same.

The upper house of Russia’s parliament, the Federation Council, was due to approve the withdrawal bill on June 2, and once Putin signed the measure, it would take six months for Russia’s exit to take effect.

Thursday’s notification, however, appears to mark the end of the treaty, which was widely supported by U.S. allies in Europe and Democrats in Congress as a confidence-building measure between former Cold War adversaries.


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