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Russia To Exit Open Skies Treaty After U.S. Pullout

A Russian Tupolev-214 airplane with the Open Skies markings
A Russian Tupolev-214 airplane with the Open Skies markings

Russia says it is beginning the procedure to withdraw from the international Open Skies Treaty after the United States last year left the accord, which allows unarmed aerial surveillance flights over dozens of participating states.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement on January 15 that the U.S. pullout "significantly upended the balance of interests of signatory states," and that Russia's proposals to keep the accord alive had been shrugged off by Washington's allies.

"Given the lack of progress in efforts to remove obstacles preventing the functioning of the treaty in the new situation, the Russian Foreign Ministry is entitled to announce the start of domestic procedures to pave the way for Russia's withdrawal from the Treaty on Open Skies," the ministry said.

The United States formally withdrew on November 22 from the arms-control and verification agreement that Washington repeatedly said Moscow "flagrantly violated," six months after giving notice of the pending exit.

At the time, Moscow condemned the decision, saying it was detrimental to the security of Europe, the United States, and its allies.

The U.S. move was the latest blow to the system of international arms control that outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly scorned, complaining that Washington was being either deceived or unfairly restrained in its military capabilities.

The Open Skies Treaty was signed in 1992 and entered into force in 2002, allowing its 34 members 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 treaty's proponents say the flights help build confidence by showing that, for example, adversaries are not secretly deploying forces or preparing to launch attacks.

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