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Russia Deplores U.S. Decision Not To Rejoin Open Skies Treaty

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A Tupolev Tu-214ON monitoring aircraft used under the Open Skies Treaty (file photo)

Russia says Washington's decision not to rejoin an arms control deal that has allowed unarmed aerial flights over dozens of participating countries clouds the outlook for arms control discussions during next month’s planned summit between the presidents of the two countries.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov made the comments on May 28, a day after Washington informed Moscow that it would not rejoin the Open Skies Treaty, with the State Department saying the accord "has been undermined by Russia's violations" and its failure to return to compliance.

Russia, which denies the allegations, is also expected to withdraw from the arms control and verification agreement this year.

"We can only express regret here," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, adding that the pact would "lose much of its viability" without the participation of Russia and the United States.

The Open Skies Treaty came into force in 2002, allowing short-notice flights to monitor military activity. More than 30 nations participate in it.

Washington withdrew from the treaty in November, under Donald Trump's presidency, saying Moscow had continuously violated it.

"In concluding its review of the treaty, the United States therefore does not intend to seek to rejoin it, given Russia’s failure to take any actions to return to compliance. Further, Russia’s behavior, including its recent actions with respect to Ukraine, is not that of a partner committed to confidence-building," the State Department said in announcing its decision.

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden had been reviewing the possibility of rejoining the treaty, but the notification to Russia on May 27, which Ryabkov said dealt “one more blow to the European security system," suggests the agreement is now all but dead.

"It certainly does not make us happy. It is disappointing because the U.S. has missed another chance...to make a positive contribution to the task of strengthening security in Europe," the RIA Novosti news agency quoted Ryabkov as saying.

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Amid escalating tensions between Washington and Moscow, Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin are preparing a bilateral summit in Geneva on June 16, in what would be their first meeting since the U.S. president took office in January.

In response to the U.S. pullout from the Open Skies Treaty last year, Moscow said it planned to withdraw and the lower house of Russia’s parliament voted to abandon the accord earlier this month.

The upper house is expected to approve the withdrawal bill in June. Once Putin signs the measure, it would take six months for the Russian exit to take effect.

U.S. allies in Europe have supported maintaining the treaty, which allows nations to collect information on one another’s military forces in order to increase transparency and build mutual confidence about intentions.

In order to stay in the agreement, Russia had unsuccessfully sought assurances that NATO members would not hand over data collected during observation flights over Russia to the United States.

In February, Russia and the United States formally extended the New START treaty -- the last remaining arms control pact between Washington and Moscow -- for another five years, just days before it was set to expire.

With reporting by Reuters, RIA Novosti, and TASS
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