Trump to withdraw US from Open Skies Treaty, will inform Russia on Friday – report

Trump to withdraw US from Open Skies Treaty, will inform Russia on Friday – report

Donald Trump is set to withdraw the United States from one of the few remaining arms control mechanisms – the Open Skies Treaty – this week, senior administration officials have said, according to the New York Times.

The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed on Thursday that Moscow had not yet received any official notification from Washington.

The Open Skies Treaty, which has been in force since 2002, allows for unarmed aerial surveillance flights to be conducted over the territories of its participants. American personnel are on board the Russian flights over the US, while Russian personnel are on board during flights over Russia.

While no official communication has come from the White House yet, Moscow has been expecting the move for some time. In April, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the decision “has already been taken in Washington.”

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Lavrov said European members of the treaty are unlikely to pull out, because they understand it has “value as an instrument [to secure] trust, predictability, and transparency.”

The fact that the Open Skies Treaty explicitly allows for surveillance flights over member countries has not stopped some US lawmakers and officials from whipping up hysteria when they take place. 

Trump’s decision to abandon the treaty was framed as a “gift to Putin” by one former senior director at the National Security Council. Last year, an aide to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden also whipped up some unnecessary panic on Twitter when a Russian plane flew over Chicago under the terms of the treaty.

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Trump’s reported ditching of the agreement is the latest in a series of decisions to withdraw the US from international security accords. Last year, his administration abandoned the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia – a decision which prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to suggest that the US was gearing up for a new “unrestrained arms race.”

The other major arms control accord between the US and Russia, the New START Treaty, which limits both countries to 1,550 deployed nuclear missiles, is due to expire shortly after the next presidential inauguration in January 2021. Washington has been stalling on negotiating its continuation, despite Moscow’s offer to prolong it as is.

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