Kremlin says US decision to withdraw from treaty “significantly upset the balance of interests” among pact members, compelling Russia to exit.

In this file image, Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting via video link in Moscow, Russia, December 21, 2020.
In this file image, Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting via video link in Moscow, Russia, December 21, 2020. (Reuters Archive)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law that formalises Russia’s exit from the Open Skies arms control treaty, a pact that allows unarmed surveillance flights over member countries.

The Kremlin said on Monday that the US decision to withdraw from the treaty had "significantly upset the balance of interests" among the pact's members and had compelled Russia to exit.

"This caused serious damage to the treaty's observance and its significance in building confidence and transparency, (causing) a threat to Russia's national security," the Kremlin said in a statement on its website.

Russia had hoped that Putin and US President Joe Biden could discuss the treaty when they meet later this month at a summit in Geneva.

But the Biden administration informed Moscow in May that it would not re-enter the pact after the Trump administration quit it last year.

READ MORE: Why is the Open Skies Treaty, the US just left, so important?

Moscow had hoped that Biden would reverse his predecessor's decision. But the Biden administration did not change tack, accusing Russia of violating the pact, something Moscow denied. 

In January, Russia announced its own plans to leave the treaty, and the government submitted legislation to parliament last month to formalise its departure.

Russian officials said they regretted the US decision not to rejoin, calling it a "political mistake" and warned the move would not create an atmosphere conducive to arms control discussions at a Geneva summit later this month.

READ MORE: Is the US right in wanting to leave the Open Skies treaty?

What is the Open Skies Treaty?

The treaty was first proposed in 1955 by former US President Dwight Eisenhower to de-escalate Cold War tensions. At the time, Soviet Union Supreme Premier Nikita Khrushchev laughed off the idea as an “espionage plot”. But when the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union dissolved, the idea was revived and pushed forward.

This eventually took the form of a treaty between NATO members and former Warsaw Pact nations that went into effect in 2002 with 35 signatories.

At its heart, the treaty seeks to build confidence among its members through shared openness, lowering chances of accidental war. Through the treaty, a state can “spy” on any part of another signatory with their consent. To do this, the surveilling state has to give notice 72 hours prior to its aerial imaging mission, and must also share the exact flight path it will take 24 hours prior. 

Most importantly, any information gathered, such as troop movements, military exercises and missile deployments must be shared with all states who are party to the treaty. The treaty does set criteria, however. Only approved imaging equipment is permitted on surveillance flights, and representative officials from the surveilled state also have the right to stay on board during its flight.

READ MORE: Understanding US-Russia spat over deployment of missiles in Europe

Source: TRTWorld and agencies