World Politics

Russia, citing U.S. withdrawal, will pull out of Open Skies treaty that allows unarmed surveillance flights

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Key Points
  • Russia announced on Friday it was pulling out of the Open Skies treaty, saying that the pact, which allows unarmed surveillance flights over member countries, had been seriously compromised by the withdrawal of the United States.
  • The United States left the Open Skies arms control and verification treaty in November, accusing Russia of violating it, something Moscow denied.
  • Russia has raised concerns that despite leaving the treaty Washington could potentially retain access to overflight intelligence gathered by allies who remain members in the treaty.
Russian President Vladimir Putin looks at military aircrafts flying over the Kremlin and Red Square to mark the 75th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, Moscow, May 9, 2020.
Alexey Druzhinin | AFP | Getty Images

Russia announced on Friday it was pulling out of the Open Skies treaty, saying that the pact, which allows unarmed surveillance flights over member countries, had been seriously compromised by the withdrawal of the United States.

The move, announced by Russia's foreign ministry, comes days before U.S. President-elect Joe Biden's Jan. 20 inauguration amid fears of a burgeoning arms race. Moscow's last major nuclear arms pact with Washington is set to expire next month.

The United States left the Open Skies arms control and verification treaty in November, accusing Russia of violating it, something Moscow denied.

Russia said in a statement that Moscow had made specific proposals to other members to mitigate against the impact of the U.S. exit but that those proposals were not backed by Washington's allies.

Moscow will formally notify other member states about its exit once it has completed unspecified withdrawal procedures at home, it said. The exit process usually takes months to be finalized.

Russia has raised concerns that despite leaving the treaty Washington could potentially retain access to overflight intelligence gathered by allies who remain members in the treaty.

The Kommersant newspaper reported earlier that Moscow had tried to get guarantees from other countries that they would not share such intelligence with Washington but had not been given any assurances.

Arms control tensions have been rising between Moscow and Washington and New START, their last remaining major nuclear arms control treaty, is set to expire in February.

Biden has said he's keen to renew it but it remains unclear for how long.

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