- The Washington Times - Friday, January 15, 2021

Russia said Friday it is withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty, just two months after the U.S.’ withdrawal from the international agreement allowing nations to conduct unarmed surveillance flights was finalized.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry cited the U.S.’ exit as the cause for the withdrawal and said in a statement that the move “significantly upended the balance of interests of signatory states.”

Parliament will now have to vote to uphold the Russian government’s decision to withdraw. If approved, Moscow will have to wait six months, as part of a notification process to Russia and other signatory nations, before the exit is ratified.

The ministry said Moscow is moving forward with its removal from the pact “due to the lack of progress in removing the obstacles for the treaty’s functioning in the new conditions.”

The Trump administration last year announced its intent to leave the 20-year-old treaty that allows dozens of nations to conduct unarmed surveillance flights over each other’s territory. But President Trump and other Republican critics maintained that Russia was violating the treaty, and it is no longer in the U.S. national interest.

American officials long complained about restrictions that Moscow has put on overflights of certain areas, including Chechnya and Russia’s strategic Kaliningrad enclave in Europe.

The Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies also warned that Moscow used Open Skies flights over the U.S. and Europe to map out targets and infrastructure that could be hit by a conventional or cyberattack.

Supporters of the treaty have argued that such European partners could be aggravated by another U.S. repudiation of a major multilateral security pact. All but two of the European Union’s 29 member countries have joined the agreement, and when the U.S. conducts intelligence flights, European allies are often brought along.

These European allies, as well as Moscow, have warned that the demise of the treaty will pose new challenges for governments to assess the intentions of the actions of other nations. The crumbling pact will now present an additional foreign policy challenge for President-elect Joseph R. Biden and his administration.

Following the U.S.’ pullout, Mr. Biden said Mr. Trump “has doubled down on his short-sighted policy of going it alone and abandoning American leadership” in withdrawing from the treaty.

“With the world confronting the health and economic consequences of a global pandemic, the United States should be leading the international community, working with allies, and avoiding destabilizing actions. Withdrawal from Open Skies will have the opposite effect,” Mr. Biden said in a statement, noting that he supported the treaty, when he was a Democratic senator for Delaware.

• Lauren Toms can be reached at lmeier@washingtontimes.com.

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