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ConflictsNorth America

US officially withdraws from Open Skies treaty

November 22, 2020

The US has exited the Open Skies treaty, which allows countries to observe one another's militaries. Accusing Russia of violating some of its provisions, Trump announced in May that he would withdraw from the treaty.

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin
Image: picture-alliance/AP/S. Walsh

Six months after US President Donald Trump announced his administration's decision to withdraw from the Open Skies accord, the United States on Sunday officially pulled out of the agreement.

The treaty provides for inspection flights over member countries' territories to monitor military activities.

US officials claim that Russia violated the Open Skies treaty by blocking surveillance flights around certain areas, including the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad and the border with Georgia.

On May 22, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a written statement that his country's decision to exit the agreement would enter into force in six months — on November 22.

Read more: US and UK reach post-Brexit 'Open Skies' deal on air services

Mistrust between Moscow and Washington

The Treaty on Open Skies was signed in March 1992 in Helsinki by 23 member nations of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). It now has 33 members, with Russia ratifying it on May 26, 2001.

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Earlier this month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov demanded written assurances from the remaining NATO members that any surveillance data they gather after the US withdrawal must not be shared with Washington.

Lavrov also insisted that US bases in Europe would not be exempt from Russian surveillance missions.

Read more: NATO allies alarmed, annoyed by US Open Skies exit

In 2017, the Trump administration imposed certain restrictions on Russian observation flights above its territory, after which the Russian government announced similar measures for the US.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Germany regrets the US decision and that Berlin still regarded the agreement as "an important part of the arms control architecture that contributes to mutual trust and thus security in the northern hemisphere."

Will Biden rejoin Open Skies?

Russia, however, is hopeful that US President-elect Joe Biden would rejoin the pact after he takes charge in January 2021.

According to the TASS news agency, Konstantin Gavrilov, Russia's chief negotiator at the Vienna talks on military security and arms control issues, said that Washington has the right to withdraw from the accord.

"Returning [to the treaty] or not – this is also the choice of the new US administration," Gavrilov said.

After coming to power, President Trump pulled out the US from several international treaties, including the 2016 Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, and the 2015 Paris Climate Change deal.

Read more: China advances plans to join Arms Trade Treaty spurned by Trump