Thu, 29 Jul 2021

Russia says it has notified its partners under the Open Skies arms control treaty that it will leave the group in December, following the departure from the accord by the United States late last year.

'Russia has notified all the member states about its decision to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty six months after sending a notice. Therefore, this will occur on December 18, 2021,' the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on June 18.

The North Atlantic Council, NATO's principal political decision-making body, said it 'deeply' regretted Russia's move, saying the accord is 'an important legally binding instrument which contributes to transparency, security and stability, and mutual confidence in the Euro-Atlantic area.'

It also accused Russia of failing to engage 'constructively' to resolve outstanding issues of compliance.

The treaty, which entered into force in 2002, allowed its 34 signatories to conduct short-notice, unarmed observation and surveillance flights over one another's territories to collect data on military forces and activities. More than 1,500 flights have taken place under the agreement.

The United States formally withdrew in November 2020 from the verification agreement, which Washington said Moscow 'flagrantly violated,' six months after giving notice of its pending exit. Moscow denies it has violated the accord.

The administration of Trump's successor, Joe Biden, said last month it had decided not to reenter the Open Skies Treaty.

In response, President Vladimir Putin signed a law formalizing Russia's withdrawal from the pact earlier in June. Both chambers of Russia's parliament had earlier approved the move.

The Russian Foreign Ministry on June 18 said the U.S. decision to withdraw from the treaty had 'significantly upset the balance of interests' among the pact's members and had compelled Moscow to exit.

According to the North Atlantic Council, Russia 'has for many years refused to fully comply with its obligations under the Treaty on Open Skies, by, inter alia, imposing non-compliant flight restrictions over the Kaliningrad region, and near its border with Georgia.'

The U.S. pull out was another blow to the system of international arms control that former President Donald Trump had repeatedly scorned, complaining that Washington was being either deceived or unfairly restrained in its military capabilities.

In January, just days after being inaugurated, Biden moved to extend New START, the last major arms-control treaty remaining between Moscow and Washington.

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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