Setback for NATO: Moscow leaves “Open Skies” control treaty

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Setback for NATO
Moscow leaves “Open Skies” control agreement

For years the Open Skies Treaty has regulated military observation flights over certain national areas. After the USA, Russia is now also withdrawing from the agreement. It is a setback for relations between the Kremlin and NATO.

After the USA, Russia is also withdrawing from the “Open Skies” arms control treaty. The most important international agreement for military observation flights is about to be terminated. The Russian Foreign Ministry announced that Washington did not respond to Moscow’s proposals to maintain the treaty. Therefore, Russia is now starting the exit procedure. The US had left the contract under pretended allegations, it said from Moscow.

Washington’s departure from the treaty that is so important to NATO took effect in November. Russia had also announced its exit since then. But until the end of the day, the nuclear power fueled hopes that the treaty could still be saved. The contract was signed in 1992 and came into force in 2002. It allows the contracting states to conduct a certain number of agreed observation flights over the territory of other states each year.

The administration of US President Donald Trump had already announced at the end of May that the US wanted to withdraw from the agreement. Washington cited violations of Moscow’s treaty as the reason for the move. Even the announcement of the US exit caused international irritation and concern because the agreement is considered one of the pillars of the confidence-building measures between NATO countries and Russia.

The US had not even explained why it was withdrawing from the treaty, complained Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin at a panel of experts in October. The NATO states could continue to fly over Russian territory and hand over all information to the Americans. Russia, on the other hand, should no longer receive any US information, said Putin. “Let’s talk honestly!”

The disarmament treaty is pending

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later imposed conditions for Russia to remain in the agreement. On November 12th, he demanded a written commitment from the NATO states not to disclose any more data to the USA after observation flights over Russia. And he warned the contracting parties against responding to US demands not to allow Russian observation flights over American military bases in Europe. “This is a gross violation of the contract.”

The possibility of observing US activities in Poland or Germany, for example, was considered attractive for Russia, which is why Russia initially remained in the agreement despite massive concerns. After the Open Skies exit, a major setback in arms control could still be imminent: the future of the last major nuclear disarmament treaty, “New Start”, is still pending. The contract will expire at the beginning of February 2021 if Russia and the US do not agree on an extension. Russia has repeatedly called for this – so far with no tangible result.

The New Start Treaty limits the nuclear arsenals of both countries to 800 carrier systems each and 1,550 operational nuclear warheads each. In the past, Biden had spoken out in favor of extending the contract. However, after his inauguration on January 20, he has little time for this. Should the agreement expire, there would be no agreement for the first time in decades that sets limits on the stock of strategic nuclear weapons.

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