US says it will not rejoin Open Skies treaty with Russia

The pact, from which former President Trump withdrew, allowed surveillance flights over military facilities in both countries.

A Russian Tupolev Tu-154 Open Skies Treaty reconnaissance aircraft sitting on the runway at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska [File: Mark Farmer/AP Photo]

The United States told Russia on Thursday it will not rejoin the Open Skies arms control pact, which allows unarmed surveillance flights over member countries, a US official reportedly said.

Citing unnamed US officials, The Associated Press reported that Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told the Russians that the Biden administration had decided not to re-enter the treaty, which had allowed surveillance flights over military facilities in both countries before President Donald Trump withdrew from the pact.

Thursday’s decision means only one major arms control treaty between the nuclear powers – the New START treaty – will remain in place. Trump had done nothing to extend New START, which would have expired earlier this year, but after taking office, the Biden administration moved quickly to extend it for five years and opened a review into Trump’s Open Skies Treaty withdrawal.

Russia’s foreign ministry said in January that the US withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty ‘significantly upended the balance of interests of signatory states’, adding that Moscow’s proposals to keep the treaty alive have been cold-shouldered by Washington’s allies [File: Susan Walsh/AP Photo]

The officials said that the review had been completed and that Sherman had informed Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov of the US decision not to return to Open Skies on Thursday. The officials were not authorised to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The move came before a meeting between President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 16 in Geneva, Switzerland. They will try to find common ground amid a sharp deterioration in ties that have sunk relations to their lowest point in decades.

The Open Skies Treaty was intended to build trust between Russia and the West by allowing the accord’s more than three dozen signatories to conduct reconnaissance flights over each other’s territories to collect information about military forces and activities.

More than 1,500 flights have been conducted under the treaty since it took effect in 2002, aimed at fostering transparency and allowing for the monitoring of arms control and other agreements.

The Russian parliament’s lower house voted on May 19 to withdraw from the treaty [File: The Federal Assembly of The Russian Federation via AP]

The Trump administration announced the US withdrawal from the treaty last year, and the lower house of Russia’s parliament voted last week to follow suit. But until Thursday, the two sides had said the treaty could still be salvaged. Russian officials said they were willing to reconsider their withdrawal if the US did the same.

The upper house of Russia’s parliament, the Federation Council, was expected to approve the withdrawal bill on June 2, and once Putin signed the measure, it would take six months for the Russian exit to take effect.

Thursday’s notification, however, appears to mark the end of the treaty, which was broadly supported by US allies in Europe and Democrats in Congress as a trust-building measure between the former Cold War adversaries.

Source: News Agencies