US signals intention to withdraw from Open Skies treaty
Senior Trump administration officials blame Russian breaches for pullout, which will take effect in six months
The United States announced its intention to withdraw from the 35-nation Open Skies treaty, saying Russia has repeatedly breached the pact's terms.
The treaty, established in 1992, permits unarmed aerial surveillance flights by participating countries over one another's territory.
US President Trump plans to inform Moscow Washington's move on Friday, the New York Times reported.
Senior administration officials said the pullout would take effect in six months, based on the treaty's withdrawal terms.
It was the latest move by the Trump's administration to remove the United States from a major global treaty, following withdrawal from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia last year.
The officials said the decision came after a six-month review that found several instances of Russian refusal to comply with the treaty.
"During the course of this review it has become abundantly clear that it is no longer in America's interests to remain a party to the Open Skies treaty," said one of the officials.
Russia breached and implemented the treaty in ways that can contribute to military threats against the United States and its allies, the official said.
In March, the US Defence Secretary Mark Esper accused Russia of violating the treaty by forbidding US and other foreign flights over the Baltic Sea city of Kaliningrad and near Georgia.
"We've also been denied access to military exercise overflights," he said. "I have a lot of concerns about the treaty as it stands now."
"This is important to many of our NATO allies, that they have the means to conduct the overflights," he said.
The Russian foreign ministry said the allegations were groundless. In a statement carried by the news agency Tass, Vladimir Ermakov from the ministry's department of non-proliferation and arms control said the Kremlin will wait for Washington's official withdrawal.
“We always have some kind of Plan B. The United States has not positioned itself as a reliable partner for a long time, so we have to plan our future activities based on which partners we currently have,” he said.
At the same time, US officials had begun talks in recent days with Russian counterparts about a new round of nuclear arms negotiations.
"The goal is to get a robust set of teams together to begin crafting the next generation of nuclear arms control measures," an official said. "The United States is committed to arms control. We are committed to European security. And we are committed to a future that puts meaningful constraints on nuclear weapons.
"It will be incumbent on Russia to be comply with future arrangements. We go into this with eyes wide open."
The Open Skies treaty, proposed by US President Dwight Eisenhower in 1955, was signed in 1992 and took effect in 2002.
The 35 state parties to the Open Skies Treaty are: Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark (including Greenland), Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, the Russian Federation, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Updated: May 21, 2020 08:09 PM