Russia's exit from the Open Skies Treaty: is the US ready to play by the rules?

16:32, 20 мая 2021

МОСКВА, 20 мая 2021, Институт РУССТРАТ.

On May 19, the State Duma approved the bill introduced by the President “On the denunciation of the Open Skies Treaty by the Russian Federation”. Such a step on the Russian side became logically inevitable after the unilateral and objectively unjustified withdrawal of the US from the Treaty in November 2020.

At the time, the Russian Foreign Ministry stressed that this would destroy the international trust that was at the heart of this agreement, signed back in 1992. The essence and key meaning of which was that the signatories of the Open Skies Treaty had the opportunity to officially and personally verify certain suspicions concerning issues of threats to national security, as well as the mechanism for providing the information received to all other participants. What one learned, everyone learned, which served as a reliable guarantee of mutual trust.

And so the administration of President Trump, for purely domestic political reasons, decided that since other ways of “punishing Russia for its obstinacy” are either completely exhausted or not effective, and it is somehow necessary to gain political points in the internal struggle for power, then the US’ withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty is a “good idea”.

Indeed, why fulfil the terms of the Open Skies Treaty and allow Russia to fly inspection flights over the US, if all information about Russia can be obtained through its NATO allies who remain in the Treaty? As the saying goes, “sleight of hand and no cheating”.

In principle, Russia was ready to agree to America’s withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty, provided that the remaining countries signed an addendum, with the obligation not to provide information received under the Open Skies Treaty to “third countries”. However, the parties to the Treaty refused to undertake such an obligation.

Thus, Russia’s membership in the Open Skies Treaty has lost its main meaning – an equilateral confirmation of mutual trust and openness between all participants. This made Russia’s withdrawal from the Treaty inevitable.

At the same time, from the point of view of checking suspicions about certain actions of the “partners”, Russia has a sufficiently sized dorbital space group, the modern capabilities of which are technically many times higher than the same level of 30 years ago. So in terms of controlling what is happening on the territory of foreign countries, the situation for Russia will not change in any way.

But for other participants, especially small European countries, just the opposite is true. Due to the lack of their own intelligence satellites, they will have to turn to “senior partners” for information, and is not at all a fact that they will agree to share it with them. The partnership within the framework of NATO is so ambiguous, and definitely far from equal rights.

We can say that this will not add to their confidence in Russia. However, for the past year in a row, current events have shown its complete destruction.

Russia has long been accused of literally everything. Who tried to poison the Skripals with a terrible poison? – Russia. Who blew up military warehouses in the Czech Republic? – Russia again. Who is undermining European unity? – Russia again. Who is going to use the anti-coronavirus vaccine to destabilise the European Union? Who interferes in democratic elections in the US? Who is to blame for the extinction of the dinosaurs? Of course, Russia, who else!

This raises a natural question: do we need such trust of theirs? Moreover, is it worth the infringement of national security? The answer, it seems to us, is quite obvious.

At the same time, the following should be noted. After the law is adopted by the President of the Russian Federation and signed by the President of Russia, the decision on denunciation will be transmitted to the depositary countries (Canada and Hungary) and will enter into force only six months later, i.e., in December 2021. If the US really cares about international security and openness, it has time to return to the Open Skies Treaty. It is possible that this topic could be one of the topics discussed during the upcoming summit of the leaders of the two countries.

Biden and his team, in particular, Secretary of State Blinkin, talk a lot about the need to comply with the rules of the game in matters of strategic stability. Now they are given a great chance to demonstrate by their actions their commitment to their own rhetoric. Let’s see if they take this chance.

Elena Panina – Director of the RUSSTRAT Institute

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