The United States would like to thank Canada and Hungary as co-depositaries for the Treaty on Open Skies, for hosting this meeting in accordance with Article XV of the Treaty. We also want to thank the other States Parties for coming together to share their views on this important topic.
On May 22, the United States provided notice of its decision to withdraw from the Treaty on Open Skies pursuant to paragraph 2 of Article XV. The United States’ withdrawal will take effect on November 22, 2020. The administration did not take this step lightly. The decision was the culmination of a months’ long review process that included extensive consultations with other States Parties. While this Conference of the States Parties was triggered by the notice of the United States’ decision to withdraw, the primary reason we are here is because of the behavior of one State Party – Russia – whose actions are directly responsible for the erosion of the European security and arms control architecture. I will now share with you some of the reasoning for the United States’ decision to withdraw, including the broader context.
Russia’s violations of the Treaty on Open Skies are merely one part of a pattern of Russian violations of its arms control obligations and commitments. These include: Russia’s material breach of the INF Treaty; its aggressive actions against Georgia and Ukraine, which are flagrantly contrary to its commitments to the principles set forth in the Helsinki Final Act; its purported suspension of its obligations under the CFE Treaty; and its selective implementation of the Vienna Document. We should also note Russia’s use of a chemical weapon on the soil of an OSCE participating State, and the many destabilizing hybrid actions including disinformation campaigns, that it has taken.
As a result of Russia’s actions, today’s security environment is no longer what it was when the Treaty on Open Skies was signed in 1992, in an era of hope. In the place of growing confidence, we have growing mistrust. The conclusion we have had to draw is that Russia is no longer committed to cooperative security.
As States Parties are well aware, the United States has long been deeply concerned with Russia’s repeated violations of the Treaty, which have been thoroughly documented in the U.S. State Department’s Compliance Reports from 2005 through 2019. By contrast, the United States has always been and will remain, until the effective date of its withdrawal, in full compliance with our obligations under the Treaty.
Russia’s recent violations include: (1) Russia’s 500-kilometer “sublimit” on flight distances over the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad since 2015; (2) its refusal to allow observation flights to approach within 10 kilometers of Russia’s border with the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, also since 2015; and (3) most recently, its denial of a flight segment over a major military exercise (TSENTR) in September 2019.
The broader point here is that Russia has historically treated its Treaty obligations as optional and only to be honored when convenient. This Russian approach has undermined the confidence-building purpose of the Treaty.
In the case of its violation related to its border with Georgia, Russia’s refusal of Open Skies flights within 10 kilometers of its border with the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is an effort to advance its false narrative that these Russian-occupied regions are independent states. In this same vein, although not a Treaty violation, Russia designated an airfield in Russian occupied Crimea which remains a part of the sovereign territory of Ukraine as an Open Skies refueling airfield in an attempt to advance its false narrative that Crimea is legally part of Russia. The United States has not and will never recognize this claim, nor should any other Open Skies partner: implementation of a confidence building Treaty cannot be made a tool of propaganda efforts to support the invasion, occupation, and purported annexation of portions of a sovereign state.
With regard to the TSENTR violation in 2019, Russia denied a previously agreed flight segment over this important military exercise, effectively preventing its observation. Russia claimed its inability to guarantee flight safety as the reason, yet refused to permit the segment even after the observing Parties offered to adjust the flight plan. This was another illustration of Russia’s willingness to disregard its legal obligations for convenience, undercutting the Treaty’s central purpose of building confidence by demonstrating that a party has nothing to hide.
Finally, as the Director of the U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center stated on May 21, 2020; “For years, Russia has used the Open Skies Treaty to collect intelligence on civilian infrastructure and other sensitive sites in America, posing an unacceptable risk to our national security.” Additionally, the United States is concerned Russia may be using imagery collected from Open Skies flights to support the targeting of European critical infrastructure. Although not a Treaty violation to collect civilian infrastructure imagery, if a State Party then uses that imagery to plan military attacks, that is an ugly perversion of the Treaty’s aims. As stated in Article IX of the Treaty, Open Skies imagery “shall be used exclusively for the attainment of the purposes of this Treaty.” Misusing the Treaty in this manner gravely undermines its effectiveness as a confidence-building mechanism.
It is worth reminding States Parties that the United States has acted in good faith in an effort to work with Russia to resolve these compliance concerns through dialogue. From 2015 through 2017, the United States participated with several Allies and partners with Russia in the so-called “Small Group” aimed at resolving Russian violations. Unfortunately, this effort ultimately failed in July 2017 due to Russia’s refusal to cooperate constructively.
Even today, notwithstanding our notice to withdraw under paragraph 2 of Article XV, the United States remains committed to diplomatic efforts to resolve Russian noncompliance with the Treaty on Open Skies. The United States supported the formation of a new Small Group on Open Skies in 2020 and we thank the United Kingdom, Belgium, and Sweden for their leadership in this endeavor. We hope we can work together to resolve – once and for all – Russian violations of the Treaty on Open Skies. As Secretary Pompeo stated on May 21, 2020, the United States may reconsider our withdrawal should Russia return to full compliance with the Treaty.