As of December 18, 2021, the Russian Federation is no longer a party to the Treaty on Open Skies (Treaty) and has consequently ceased to be a member of the group of States Parties stipulated in its provisions.
The decision to join the Treaty was not an easy one for us. However, we adopted it in the interests of stronger international security. A major argument in favour of that decision was the participation of the United States, which called for military transparency but was reluctant to open its territory to confidence-building measures.
The decades after the adoption of the Treaty showed that it has served well as a confidence- and security-building instrument and has created additional opportunities for an objective and unbiased assessment of the member states’ military capabilities and activities.
Russia is withdrawing from the Treaty with a feeling of having done a good job to keep up its viability. Over two decades, the Russian Federation accounted for the largest number of observation missions of all the member states (we conducted 646 observation flights and received 449 of the 1,580 observation flights made under the Treaty). Russia was the first state to use digital observation equipment under the Treaty.
We did our best to implement and preserve the Treaty not on paper but in real life, sometimes taking big steps towards the other states parties. A case in point is the developments of 2018, when all the member states were unable to make observation flights because of Georgia’s destructive position. Russia’s gesture of good will helped to find a way out of the deadlock and to resume the implementation of the Treaty. Only those who are immune to objectivity can accuse us of adopting an unconstructive approach.
Regrettably, all our efforts to preserve the Treaty in its initial format have failed. The Treaty fell victim to the infighting of various influence groups in the United States, where hawks gained the upper hand. Washington set the line towards destroying all the arms control agreements it had signed.
Even when the balance of interests, rights and obligations of the member states was disrupted by the United States’ withdrawal from the Treaty, Russia did everything in its power to find a compromise solution. We proposed several options to settle two fundamental problems, namely, the non-transfer of information collected during observation flights to states that are not party to the Treaty and guarantees of our right to conduct observation flights over US military facilities in Europe. However, some countries value bloc discipline more than the interests of peace and international security. Their support for the Open Skies Treaty has been limited to empty declarations that have no practical use.
This has left us no choice. Russia’s withdrawal from the Treaty was predetermined. We cannot and will not neglect the interests of our national security.
We respect the decision of the other states parties to continue implementing the Treaty. We hope that their joint efforts will be constructive and fruitful. However, it is obvious that the effectiveness of the Treaty will decease dramatically without the United States and Russia as member states: the area of its application will diminish by approximately 80 percent, and the number of Open Skies missions planned for 2022 will plunge.
Responsibility for the deterioration of the Open Skies regime lies fully with the United States as the country that started the destruction of the Treaty.