Paris (AFP) – NATO and the EU urged Russia on Friday to adhere to the 1992 Open Skies military surveillance treaty as European nations sought to save the pact after U.S. President Donald Trump announced his country would join withdraw.
Western allies hope to convince Washington to reverse the decision Trump said was due to Moscow failing to comply with the defense agreement.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the US decision to terminate the agreement will not take effect for six months, giving Moscow time to change course.
“All NATO allies fully comply with all the provisions of the treaty,” said Stoltenberg.
“Russia has for many years imposed flight restrictions that are incompatible with the contract, including flight restrictions, via Kaliningrad and the restriction of flights in Russia near the border with Georgia.
EU foreign policy official Josep Borrell regretted the US decision and described the Open Skies Treaty as “a key element of our arms control architecture”, which serves as an “important confidence-building and security-building measure”.
He asked Washington to rethink and ask Moscow to “immediately return to full implementation of the treaty.”
A group of 10 European nations had previously issued a joint statement saying they regretted Trump’s threat – his latest in a series of withdrawals from international agreements.
– ‘Anchored Cold War mentality’ –
The pact enables its nearly three dozen signatories to make short-term flights over each other’s territory to monitor possible military operations.
Members are countries across Europe and the former Soviet Union, as well as the United States and Canada.
Trump said on Thursday that he would pull out the U.S., claiming that Moscow had failed to honor its pact obligations.
The US accuses Russia of blocking flights over certain locations and banning military exercises that are normally allowed under open skies.
Moscow said on Friday that it would keep the treaty even if the US withdrew.
“As long as the contract is in effect, we intend to fully comply with all rights and obligations that apply to us under this contract,” Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko told RIA Novosti news agency.
Deputy Secretary of State Sergei Ryabkov denounced Washington’s “absolutely unacceptable” conditions and accused the US of sowing “discord and insecurity”.
The State Department accused the US of pointing a finger at Russia “to disguise its destructive actions.”
Grushko warned that the US withdrawal would harm European security and the interests of the US allies.
China, which is not a party to the contract, expressed its “deep regret” for the US move and called it a “demonstration of the” deeply rooted Cold War mentality “of the United States.
Europeans said they would work to resolve “open issues” with Moscow, including “unjustified restrictions” on flights via Kaliningrad – a Russian exclave that borders Poland and Lithuania.
“We continue to urge Russia to lift these restrictions,” they said.
China, which is not a party to the treaty, expressed its “deep regret” for the US move and called it a “demonstration of the United States’ Cold War mentality.”
– “Security and Peace” –
The withdrawal “will have a negative impact on the international arms control and disarmament process,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US could rethink “should Russia return to full compliance with the treaty”.
Open Skies is the third major military pact that Trump has quit since taking office in January 2017.
He also dropped the 2015 JCPOA agreement to prevent Iran from advancing its nuclear weapons program, and the 1988 Nuclear Force Treaty with Russia.
In both cases, Trump accused the other side of violating the contract requirements.
The latest move adds question marks about New START, a pact that limits the number of nuclear missiles that the US and Russia can deploy and is expected to be renewed by early 2021.
According to Corentin Brustlein from the French Institute for International Relations in Paris, the Open Skies Treaty was more political than military.
Large spy agencies don’t need an “open sky” to gather information about other countries’ military activities, he told AFP.
“But the information gathered under Open Skies can be shared and shared,” he said, even with signatory states that do not have their own strong intelligence agencies.
“The only negative consequences of this withdrawal will be felt by the United States’ allies … This is further evidence of the US government’s lack of respect for Europe’s security concerns.”
Drill-mlr / js / pvh / dl