Putin formalizes Russia’s withdrawal from Open Skies Treaty

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The President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin signed the bill formalizing Russia’s withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty. The treaty allows mutual aerial monitoring of military movements and strategic installations of the signatory countries.

Submitted by Putin on May 11, 2021, the bill was successively approved by the two houses of the Russian Parliament, the State Duma, and the Federation Council.

The Kremlin had announced its intention to withdraw from the Treaty on January 15, 2021. The move followed a similar decision from the Trump administration on November 22, 2020, citing “repeated violations from Russia.”

“On November 22, 2020, the US used a far-fetched pretext to leave the Treaty, thus significantly disrupting the balance of interests of the parties to the Treaty achieved when it was signed,” the bill reads. “Thus, serious damage was dealt to the observance of the Treaty and its significance in building trust and transparency, and a threat to Russia’s national security emerged.”

Russia will now notify the other depositories, namely the governments of Canada and Hungary, of their withdrawal. From that point, they will have 6 months to reverse the process. 

But on the United States side, the Biden administration seems determined to move forward with the withdrawal. “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 May 27, 2021.

Among the alleged violations of the treaty cited by the United States, 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.

The last of the two Boeing OC-135B observation planes of the US Air Force, specifically equipped for the application of the treaty, was retired at Offutt Air Force Base on June 4, 2021. They will both be 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.

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