Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday announced the country’s withdrawal from the Treaty on Open Skies following the US departure from the treaty last year. In a statement, Russia maintained that the US departure from the agreement was done under an “artificial pretext” and that it “essentially destroyed the balance of interests [that the parties] reached when the treaty was signed.”
First proposed by President Eisenhower in 1955, the idea behind the treaty was to permit the US and the then-existing Soviet Union to perform aerial reconnaissance flights over one another’s territory. Although Moscow did not agree to the treaty at the time, President George H.W. Bush revisited the proposal in 1989, and the Treaty on Open Skies went into effect in 2002. According to the terms of the agreement, all of a state-party’s territory can be overflown by unarmed aircraft, and a state-party must accept a certain number of overflights each year. The Congressional Research Service asserts that the treaty was formulated to “increase transparency, build confidence, and encourage cooperation among European nations.”
Today, military intelligence is mainly gathered via the use of satellites. The Open Skies Treaty, however, remained important because it was “a symbol of a determination to avoid war.” Recently, President Trump accused Russia of violating the terms of the treaty by not permitting flights over Kaliningrad. Russia denies that the treaty was violated, arguing that the US has imposed even more overflight restrictions on Alaska territory.
Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Russian Parliament, recently stated: “the blame for what is happening – and this is a very unfortunate scenario – is entirely on the United States and NATO allies.”
Prior to their announcement of the withdrawal, Russia was unsuccessful at obtaining guarantees from NATO allies that they would not share data gathered from overflights.