Russia Withdraws From Open Skies Treaty

  • 18 Jan 2021

Russia has announced to withdraw from the Open Skies treaty citing "lack of progress" on maintaining the functioning of the treaty after the United States withdrew from it last year.

About OST

  • It is a post-Cold War defense accord signed soon after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1992 and came into force in 2002.
  • It allowed its nearly three dozen signatories to carry out short-notice flights over one another's territory to monitor potential military operations.
  • The pact allows its members to request copies of images taken during surveillance flights carried out by other members.
  • The country under surveillance is given 72-hours' warning ahead of a flight and 24-hours' notice of the flight path, to which it can suggest modifications.

Why USA left the Treaty?

  • Last year (in November) Washington left the treaty after accusing Russia of violations, including blocking flights over certain sites and forbidding surveys of military exercises.

Why did Russia leave after the US?

  • A contentious issue regarding Russia’s compliance with the OST was its alleged reluctance to allow flights over Kaliningrad, its exclave in Eastern Europe that sits between NATO allies Lithuania and Poland.
  • Russia defended its position by saying that the restrictions were permissible under treaty rules, and gave the example of the US imposing similar limits on flights over Alaska.
  • After the US left the OST, Russia sought assurances from NATO allies who continued to remain on the treaty that they would not transfer data collected by their flights over Russia to Washington. In its statement, Russia said that these requests were not backed by the NATO members, prompting it to leave the treaty.

Major Arms Treaties abandoned by US in recent Past

  • Open Skies Treaty: The Open Skies pact is one of three major treaties Washington abandoned under the administration of outgoing President Donald Trump.
  • Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA): In 2018, the United States withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran deal, which curbed Tehran's nuclear program in return for an easing of international sanctions.
  • Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty: Washington also pulled out from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia, further straining already tense relations between Moscow and Washington that in recent years have reached their lowest point since the end of the Cold War. The INF Treaty was signed between the United States and the Soviet Union in 1987, in which both powers agreed to destroy two categories of lethal missile systems from their own stocks as a means to decelerate the nuclear arms race.

Last Arms Reduction Pact between USA and Russia

  • With President-elect Joe Biden due to step into office next week, one of the first challenges he will face in bilateral relations with Russia is negotiations over the extension of the New START treaty.
  • The accord, which is Washington's last remaining arms reduction pact with Moscow, is set to expire on February 5.