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Russia starts withdrawing from Open Skies treaty

January 15, 2021

Moscow has said it plans to withdraw from the arms control and verification treaty in the coming days, following the departure of the US from the treaty.

Two Russian Sukhoi Su-25 jets flying
The open Skies treaty was intended to build trust between Russia and the WestImage: Alexey Kudenko/Sputnik/dpa/picture-alliance

Russia will exit the Open Skies treaty in a matter of days, the Foreign Ministry announced on Friday.

The country must give six months notice to the other member states. Russian leaders may change their mind before the six months is up.

Why is Russia leaving Open Skies?

Moscow had been concerned about Washington receiving intelligence gathered by allies still adhering to the treaty.

The Kremlin had reportedly sought guarantees from other member states that they would not share such intelligence, but they were not forthcoming.

The planned withdrawal was "due to the lack of progress in removing obstacles to the continuation of contractual operations under the new conditions," the Russian Foreign Ministry said. 

The withdrawal will take place after Joe Biden has been inaugurated into office.

Biden has expressed eagerness to renew the nuclear arms control treaty, New START, between the two powers — it is set to expire in February.

The US left the treaty on arms control and verification in November after accusing Russia of treaty violations in May — Moscow denied the accsation.

What is the Open Skies treaty?

The treaty was first signed in 1992 — coming into effect in 2002 — as a confidence-building measure after the end of the Cold War.

According to the agreement, the signatory states are allowed to observe each other's military forces and activities by means of a limited number of yearly reconnaissance flights.

The agreement has been important for NATO, but Russia fears NATO passing on the information it collects to the US without anything in return.

Moscow had considered staying in the agreement in order to continue carrying out reconnaissance missions over Poland and Germany where US military is active.

The Kremlin had attempted to maintain the "viability" of the treaty, but Washington did not cooperate. The Russian Foreign Ministry called the reasoning for American withdrawal a "fictitious pretext" that upset "the balance of interests in the participating states."

ab/rt (Reuters, AFP, dpa)