Russia has said it will withdraw from a defense treaty that allows member countries to conduct unarmed surveillance flights on each other’s territory, following the United States’ decision to exit the pact last year.
Moscow’s decision effectively cripples the 2002 treaty, which was drafted as a post-Cold War confidence-building measure, and allowed members of Russia and NATO to use observation flights to monitor each other’s forces. military installations and troop deployments.
The announcement, which comes just days before Joe Biden takes the oath of office as President of the United States, means that there is only one major defense pact left between Russia and the West, which will expire on next month. Mr. Biden criticized the Withdrawal from the United States of Open Skies and said it increases the risk of conflict.
The steady collapse of bilateral defense pacts, including a treaty that banned iintermediate range cruise missiles, became emblematic of sour relationships between Russia and the West, and the United States in particular, over the past decade.
The American withdrawal of last November “destroyed the balance of interests [the signatories] reached when the treaty was signed, inflicted serious damage on its functioning and undermined the role of the Open Skies Treaty as a confidence and security measure, ”the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement announcing that it would begin the formal process of withdrawing from the pact.
When the United States announced its intention to withdraw in May of last year, the Trump administration blamed Moscow, claiming to have banned American flights over sensitive areas of Russian territory. On Friday, the Foreign Ministry said it was “an artificial pretext”.
Russia had entered into talks with the 33 other members after the US withdrawal with “specific proposals” to safeguard its continued participation – referring to requests that other NATO members would not share the information obtained. on Russian surveillance flights with the United States – but found no support for them, the ministry added.
NATO said it had “taken note” of Russia’s intention to withdraw. He said Moscow’s “selective implementation” of its Open Skies obligations had undermined “the contribution of this important treaty to security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic region”.
The United States has previously alleged that Russia violated the agreement by refusing to allow flights over its heavily militarized Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad, as well as along Russia’s border with Georgia and during military exercises. Russia says the United States is restricting flights over Alaska.
“All NATO allies remain committed to effective international arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation – which are essential for our security,” NATO said. “We also remain open to dialogue within the NATO-Russia Council on risk reduction and transparency.”
The disappearance of the pact is a particularly hard blow for the countries of the EU, as they appreciate the access it has given to Russian military movements, especially at the borders of the bloc.
The EU said it was “analyzing” the Russian statement and would respond to it later.
The collapse of the Open Skies Treaty means that the bilateral New Start deal, which caps the number of nuclear warheads held by the United States and Russia, is the only major defense pact remaining between Moscow and the west.
This will expire on February 5, unless the two parties can agree on a last minute extension.