Russia to follow US out of Open Skies treaty

Washington left confidence-building mechanism last year after accusing Moscow of breaches

A US Navy P-8A Poseidon surveillance plane conducts flyovers in the Atlantic Ocean. Russia announced on January 15, 2020 that it would follow the US in leaving the Open Skies surveillance pact. US Navy via Reuters
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Russia said on Friday that it would begin the procedure to withdraw from the Open Skies treaty, a pact that allows unarmed surveillance flights over member countries.

The United States left the arms control and verification treaty in November, accusing Russia of breaching it, a charge Moscow denies.

Russia's foreign ministry said it was beginning "domestic procedures for Russia's withdrawal from the Open Skies treaty", citing "lack of progress" on maintaining the functioning of the post-Cold War defence accord after the US withdrawal.

Moscow had been seeking assurances from US allies who remain parties to the treaty that they would not share intelligence gained from their surveillance with Washington.

The treaty was intended to build trust between Russia and the West by allowing the accord’s more than three dozen signatories to conduct reconnaissance flights over each other’s territories to collect information about military forces and activities.

President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw the US from the Open Skies treaty in May last year. Officials said the decision followed several instances of Russian refusal to comply with the treaty.

In March, the US defence secretary at the time, Mark Esper, accused Moscow of breaking the treaty by forbidding American and other foreign flights over the Baltic Sea city of Kaliningrad and near Georgia.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said the claims were groundless.