US pulls out of Open Skies surveillance treaty

Americans accuse Russia of breaking agreement

U.S. President Donald Trump stands on a White House balcony speaking to supporters gathered on the South Lawn for a campaign rally that the White House is calling a "peaceful protest" in Washington, U.S., October 10, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
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The US has pulled out of the Open Skies Treaty, the global agreement that allows countries to carry out unarmed surveillance flights through other signatories’ airspace.

In place since 2002, the treaty has 34 members including Canada and many countries in Europe.

It is regarded as a useful information-gathering tool that helps to promote trade, but the US has accused Russia of breaching the deal.

“Today, pursuant to earlier notice provided, the United States withdrawal from the Treaty for Open Skies is now effective,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Saturday.

“America is more secure because of it, as Russia remains in non-compliance with its obligations.”

The purpose of the pact is to promote trust and avert conflict.

Washington said that apart from Russia's breaches, it wanted to be out of the treaty because imagery collected during the flights could be obtained quickly and at less cost from US or commercial satellites.

Ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov, permanent representative of Russia to the International Organisations in Vienna, raised questions about the future of the treaty without US participation.

“From today US is no longer a party to the Open Skies Treaty,” Mr Ulyanov tweeted.

“Significant development. Let’s keep in mind that US participation was a precondition for entry of the treaty into force.

"Now the question is what Russia is going to do. All options are open at this stage.”

The Russian Arms Control Delegation in Vienna said it would seek guarantees from other treaty members that they would not share their images with the US.

Earlier it tweeted that it was unacceptable for Washington to expect its allies to share their footage.

President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw the US from the Open Skies Treaty in May.

The US has repeatedly accused Russia of intercepting its aircraft over the Mediterranean Sea this year.

The US withdrew from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia last year.

Officials said the decision was made after a six-month review that found several instances of Russian refusal to comply with the treaty.

In March, then-US Defence Secretary 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 has said the claims are groundless.

The Open Skies Treaty, proposed by US President Dwight Eisenhower in 1955, was signed in 1992.