U.S. to withdraw from Open Skies arms control treaty - Russia looks set to follow

The U.S. government confirmed this week its intention to withdraw from the Treaty on Open Skies, an agreement dating from 2002 which allows unarmed short-notice reconnaissance flights by specially equipped aircraft, over the entire territory of another country to collect data on troop movements and levels of activity at military facilities.

The move comes less than two years after Donald Trump took his country out of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which he stated Russia had repeatedly violated. The same justification is cited as the reason for quitting Open Skies: the President claims that Russia is using the flights to identify possible future targets for a strike on Europe or the U.S.

However, as the country under observation has the right to supply the aircraft used for any mission, the scope for covert intelligence gathering such as Trump suggests may be rather limited. In 2017 both countries imposed restrictions on one another following allegations of abuse of the treaty.

Trump appears to not rule out re-engagement: "I think we have a very good relationship with Russia, but Russia didn't adhere to the treaty," he said on Thursday, adding: "Until they adhere we will pull out."

However, Russian news agency TASS reports suggest that Russia may also withdraw from the treaty.

It is not advisable for Russia to keep its own participation in the agreement after the United States pulls out of this agreement, because European countries of NATO within the framework of this agreement will still be able to fly over Russian soil. If Russia remains a party to the agreement, the zero-sum game will go on, because the United States will continue receiving information on the state and deployment of the Russian Armed Forces from its European allies in NATO remaining in the agreement, while Russian planes will not be able to fly over the United States. Certainly, Russia will not receive relevant information about the US army from the Europeans.

Dmitry Suslov, Deputy Director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the National Research University

The third of the major arms control treaties, the Strategic Nuclear Arms Reduction Treaty (START) is due to expire in February 2021.

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Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright is publishing editor of EU Today.

An experienced journalist and published author, he specialises in environment, energy, and defence.

He also has more than 10 years experience of working as a staff member in the EU institutions, working with political groups and MEPs in various policy areas.

Gary's latest book WANTED MAN: THE STORY OF MUKHTAR ABLYAZOV: A Manual for Criminals on How to Avoid Punishment in the EU is currently available from Amazon


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