Putin signs law taking Russia out of Open Skies treaty

Russian president formalises Moscow’s exit from pact ahead of highly anticipated Geneva summit with Joe Biden.

The treaty was intended to build trust between Russia and the West by allowing the accord’s signatories to conduct reconnaissance flights over each other’s territories [File: Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via Reuters]

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law on Monday that formalises Russia’s exit from the Open Skies arms control treaty, a pact that allows unarmed surveillance flights over member countries.

Russia had hoped that Putin and his United States counterpart Joe Biden could discuss the treaty when they meet later this month at a summit in Geneva.

But the Biden administration informed Moscow in May that it would not re-enter the pact after the Trump administration quit it last year.

The Kremlin said on Monday that the US decision to withdraw from the treaty had “significantly upset the balance of interests” among the pact’s members and had compelled Russia to exit.

“This caused serious damage to the treaty’s observance and its significance in building confidence and transparency, (causing) a threat to Russia’s national security,” the Kremlin said in a statement on its website.

Moscow had hoped that Biden would reverse his predecessor’s decision.

But the Biden administration did not change tack, accusing Russia of violating the pact, which Moscow denied.

Russian officials said they regretted the US decision not to rejoin, calling it a “political mistake” and warned the move would not create an atmosphere conducive to arms control discussions at the Geneva summit.

Alleged violations

In January, Russia announced its own plans to leave the treaty, and the government submitted legislation to parliament last month to formalise its departure.

At that time, a Kremlin spokesman said one reason was that the US was still able to receive information acquired via the treaty from its NATO allies.

But US officials have said Russia has breached the treaty by restricting US overflights of Russia’s neighbour Georgia and the Russian enclave in Kaliningrad on the Baltic coast.

Russia denies committing any violations.

The treaty, which was signed in 1992 and took effect in 2002, allows countries to conduct short-notice, unarmed surveillance flights over the entire territory of other parties and collect information on one another’s military forces.

Its objective is to increase transparency and build confidence among countries.

Members include countries across Europe, the former Soviet Union and Canada.

Source: Reuters