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Russia withdraws from Open Skies Treaty after US withdrawal on Nov 22, 2020

New Delhi, Jan 17 (UNI) Russia has announced its decision to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, an international agreement to enhance understanding between its member nations for unarmed aerial surveillance to instill mutual trust and confidence regarding any military activities.

The decision was announced by Russia following withdrawal from the Treaty by the United States on November 22, 2020, a statement issued by the Russian embassy here said.

Thirty four nations have ratified the Treaty. India is not a member. The Treaty allows the 34 member countries to conduct unarmed surveillance flights over one another’s territories. Under the Treaty all imagery collected from overflights is made available to any of the States-Parties.

It was agreed after Cold War to allow the signatories to avoid surprises by monitoring rival militaries. The Treaty was designed to enhance mutual understanding and confidence by giving all participants a direct role in gathering information through aerial imaging on military forces and activities of concern to them.

The Treaty is not related to the civil aviation Open Skies Agreement.

The statement issued by the Russian embassy said that on November 22, 2020, the United States withdrew from the Treaty under an ‘’artificial pretext’’. This essentially destroyed the balance of interests of the State Parties reached when the Treaty was signed, thereby inflicting severe damage to its functioning and undermining the role of the Treaty as a confidence and security building measure.

The Russian side put forward specific proposals consistent with the fundamental provisions of the Treaty aimed at preserving its viability under the new circumstances. ‘’We state with regret that they found no support on the part of the US allies,’’ it said.

The statement said that due to lack of progress in eliminating the hindrances for further functioning of the Treaty under the new circumstances, the Russian Foreign Ministry is ‘’authorized to declare the beginning of domestic procedures for the withdrawal of the Russian Federation from the Treaty on Open Skies.’’

The United States formally withdrew from the Treaty on November 22, 2020, despite domestic and international pressure to remain party to the accord, including from President-elect Joe Biden and several U.S. allies. “The United States withdrawal from the Treaty on Open Skies is now effective,’’ US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said while announcing US withdrawal from the Treaty citing concerns over Russian ‘non-compliance’ with and implementation of the Treaty as grounds for the U.S. withdrawal.

Russia, however, repeatedly denied the accusations that it had violated the Treaty and said all options remained on the table regarding its continued participation.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said “If they (other Parties to the Treaty) want to keep the Treaty in force, and if we choose to remain part of it, we will require our partners to legally confirm in writing that, first, they will not prohibit flights over any part of their territory regardless of whether U.S. bases are located there or not,” he said.

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