Biden administration confirms Open Skies Treaty withdrawal


The Biden administration confirmed that the United States will not reverse the Open Skies Treaty withdrawal process.

On November 22, 2020, the Trump administration announced its intention to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, citing “repeated violations from Russia.” The treaty allows mutual aerial monitoring of military movements and strategic installations of the signatory countries.

Among the alleged violations of the treaty, one point of contention was the fact that Russia refused for the treaty to apply to the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which the Kremlin recognizes as independent countries and thus outside of the Treaty’s jurisdiction. Another issue concerns the overflight time of the Kaliningrad enclave, above which Russia unilaterally imposed a limit of 500 kilometers as to not disturb civilian flights too long.

Shortly after the inauguration of President Joe Biden, his administration voiced concern that reintegrating the organization would send the “wrong message” to Russia and “undermine” its position on arms control. 

The decision to move forward with the withdrawal was confirmed on May 27, 2021. “In concluding its review of the treaty, the United States therefore does not intend to seek to rejoin it, given Russia’s failure to take any actions to return to compliance,” a State Department spokesperson said.

On April 3, 2021, the USAF announced that the two Boeing OC-135B observation planes specifically equipped for the application of the treaty would be retired and sent to the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), colloquially known as the Boneyard, in Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, United States, “in the next couple of months.”

Consequently, Russia also announced its intention to withdraw from the Treaty on January 15, 2021. The Russian administration fears that other signatory countries, especially members of NATO, could transfer the information obtained within the framework of “Open Skies” to Washington, even after the United States officially withdrew from the treaty. After the withdrawal bill was submitted by the Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin, the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, approved it on May 19, 2021. It should be reviewed by Russia’s upper house, the Federation Council, on June 2, 2021.

From the moment each party officially notify the other depositories of their withdrawal, they will have 6 months to reverse the process. Given the current diplomatic climate, however, this seems unlikely.


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