On July 6, an online Conference of the States Parties to the Open Skies Treaty was held to consider the consequences of the United States’ withdrawal from the treaty. The Russian interdepartmental delegation was led by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov.
On May 22, the United States announced its decision to withdraw from the treaty in six months and tried to justify this move by mentioning “violations” of the treaty by Russia. The arguments provided by the United States were not at all new. Russia has repeatedly responded to all its claims at the Open Skies Consultative Commission, (OSCC), a body created to implement the treaty, which includes representatives from each of the 34 participating states.
Most conference participants noted the importance of the treaty for European security and the need to preserve it. They expressed regret over the United States withdrawing from it (although a number of countries expressed their “understanding” of its motives and called on Russia to return to full compliance with the treaty), and said they hoped that this decision would be revised. Many underscored the need to resolve the problems of compliance with the treaty at the negotiating table, supported the ongoing work and expressed their willingness to participate in it.
Clearly, the partners are aware of the negative consequences of Washington withdrawing from the treaty, and find this prospect worrisome. However, they have not yet shown their willingness to assume responsibility for the treaty, to give a principled assessment of the actions of the US administration and to engage in a truly meaningful dialogue with Russia in order to resolve mutual claims, preferring instead to focus on reviewing important, but not vital, issues (allocation of active observation flight quotas, clarification of the Open Skies Consultative Commission cost distribution scale and appointment of two new chairpersons of the commission’s working groups instead of the Americans).
In his remarks at the conference, Sergey Ryabkov described the US decision as regrettable and pointed out that it would have major negative consequences for the treaty and European security in general. This destructive step by the United States fits seamlessly into the foreign policy pursued by the current administration, which includes breaking up the arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation treaties and agreements.
At the same time, the United States is heedless of the interests of its allies and other parties to the treaty, or the expert community, or the demands of its own lawmakers, many of whom openly disagreed with the decision to withdraw from this treaty. Therefore, Russia has no reason to believe in the goodwill of the US administration which is allegedly ready to remain part of the treaty if its ultimatum is met, and will not ask the United States “not to go”.
Russia pointed out that withdrawal from the treaty will tarnish the image of the United States as a reliable partner. It will no longer be possible to take its calls to improve transparency in the military sphere seriously. The United States will lose its right to acquire the observation flight data from the participating states. The member states of the treaty will have to consider a number of practical issues related to this move.
A decisive rebuff was made to Washington’s attempts to accuse Russia of violating the treaty. Prior to the conference, two Russian documents were distributed among the participating states, namely, The Open Skies Treaty: Questions and Answers and The United States of America’s Non-Compliance with its Obligations under the Open Skies Treaty, and during the event itself Head of the Russian Defence Ministry’s Treaty Compliance Directorate Sergey Ryzhkov presented a detailed analysis of these violations.
Russia has called on its partners under the treaty to join efforts in order to find a comprehensive settlement of mutual concerns. Of course, this is possible only provided the interests of the parties are mutually respected.
The Republic of Belarus supported this position. Russia and Belarus form a group of the treaty member states. A joint statement by the two countries was circulated in the run-up to the conference in the wake of the US decision to withdraw from the treaty.
Russia will continue to assess its partners‘ willingness to fully comply with their obligations under the treaty and seek mutually acceptable solutions to emerging problems. If attempts are made to limit Russia’s rights as a state party to the treaty, we will take retaliatory measures. Russia’s policy with regard to the treaty will be built based on the above assessments and, of course, our country and its allies’ security interests. No scenario can, therefore, be ruled out.