Another ‘worst deal ever’? US withdrawal from crucial Open Skies treaty is done deal, Russian FM believes

Another ‘worst deal ever’? US withdrawal from crucial Open Skies treaty is done deal, Russian FM believes

Moscow thinks Washington is on the brink of pulling out from a crucial arms-control treaty it once helped develop. Reports about the move have circulated for weeks, with top US lawmakers warning of its dire ramifications. 

The decision to depart from the Treaty on Open Skies “has already been taken in Washington,” Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the media, citing experts “watching how the situation is developing.”

“We believe that these assessments have a significant element of truth,” the chief diplomat offered.

Lavrov himself said Moscow will look at what “this decision will mean exactly” before rolling out its own response. However, it is unlikely that European allies will follow Washington’s suit as “they do understand that the treaty has an added value as an instrument [to secure]trust, predictability, and transparency,” the minister suggested.

The unambiguous remarks come on the heels of media reports that the US is ready to quit the treaty, the foundations of which were championed by Presidents Dwight Eisenhower at the height of the Cold War and later by George HW Bush. The US rationale reportedly ranges from the costs of refurbishing the old-fashioned OC-135B reconnaissance aircraft to well-worn claims that Russia is infringing on the pact.

Lawmakers were split over the looming withdrawal. Senate hawks Ted Cruz, Richard Burr, and Tom Cotton fanned habitual fears that the treaty gives leverage to “Russian espionage,” while moderates argued the US has much to lose, calling the plans “short-sighted, but also unconscionable.”

Russia has long maintained that a US pullout from Open Skies would deliver a heavy blow to European security, with high-ranking diplomats calling it a road to nowhere. As Russia’s deputy foreign minister Alexander Grushko put it in 2019, Washington envisions its allies across Europe as “vassals,” imposing sanctions against them and exiting treaties that are of critical importance to the Europeans.

The Open Skies Treaty, in force since 2002, is the latest arms control agreement to be targeted by the Trump administration. Last year, it unilaterally withdrew from the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia, paving way for an “unrestrained arms race,” as President Vladimir Putin has said.

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