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Russia To Limit U.S. Military Surveillance Flights Over Russia Next Year

A ship from Russia's Baltic Fleet in Kaliningrad (file photo)
A ship from Russia's Baltic Fleet in Kaliningrad (file photo)

Russia plans to limit U.S. military reconnaissance flights over Russian territory under the Open Skies Treaty starting January 1 in response to limits on Russian flights over the United States recently announced by Washington, Russian news agencies reported.

The new restrictions Russia is introducing will limit the scope of U.S. flights by preventing U.S. air crews from using certain Russian air bases, Russia's state-run RIA Novosti news agency cited Foreign Ministry official Georgiy Borisenko as saying.

Under the new restrictions, Russia will "cancel night stays at three airfields with respect to flights involving the United States," Russian news agency Interfax quoted Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as saying on December 28.

The Open Skies Treaty was signed in 1992 and was one of a series of arms-control deals intended to foster trust and transparency as the relationship between the nuclear superpowers thawed at the end of the Cold War.

But in June, the United States accused Russia of violating the treaty by limiting U.S. flights over its Kaliningrad exclave in Eastern Europe and said that in response, it would limit some Russian flights over U.S. territory starting on January 1.

Kaliningrad is one of Russia’s most militarized regions, home to the Baltic Fleet and short-range missiles deployed in response to a U.S. missile-defense system in Europe that the Kremlin contends is fomenting a new arms race.

With both NATO and the Russian military building up defenses in the border region, Kaliningrad's position as Russia's westernmost territory, wedged between NATO members Poland and Lithuania, makes it a potential flash point.

Complaining of Russian limits on Open Skies flights over Kaliningrad, U.S. media have reported that the United States countered with restrictions due to take effect January 1 on Russian missions over Alaska -- where interceptors that form part of the U.S. missile shield are positioned -- and Hawaii, the base of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

The tit-for-tat limits on surveillance under the Open Skies Treaty come as each side has accused the other of violating the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty.

Interfax quoted Zakharova as saying that putting the new restrictions on surveillance flights over Russia in place required the cancellation of "some bilateral agreements with the U.S. side" and that the U.S. mission at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was notified.

"U.S. actions hurt the Open Skies Treaty. We are calling on our U.S. colleagues to stop and begin a depoliticized search for mutually acceptable solutions to issues relating to the treaty," Zakharova was quoted as saying.

U.S. officials have said they would be willing to reverse the U.S. restrictions "should Russia come back into compliance with its Open Skies Treaty obligations."

With reporting by Reuters, Bloomberg, TASS, and Interfax
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