Russia says US leaving overflight treaty will hurt security

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FILE – In this Friday, Jan. 17, 2020 file photo, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov listens for a journalist’s question during his annual roundup news conference in Moscow, Russia. Top diplomats from Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany discussed ways on Thursday April 30, 2020, to advance peace process for eastern Ukraine, but failed to achieve any tangible progress. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia said Tuesday that the U.S. decision to withdraw from an international treaty allowing observation flights over military facilities would erode global security by making it more difficult for governments to interpret the intentions of other nations.

President Donald Trump last week announced Washington’s intention to pull out of the Open Skies Treaty, arguing that Russian violations made it untenable for the United States to remain a party. Russia denied breaching the pact, which came into force in 2002, and the European Union has urged the U.S. to reconsider.

The accord was intended to build trust between Russia and the West by allowing its more than three dozen signatories to conduct reconnaissance flights over each other’s territories to collect information about military forces and activities.

The treaty “helps deescalate the situation and avoid a wrong interpretation of the parties’ military intentions,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Tuesday. It called the pact a “major instrument of cooperation between the militaries that helps boost mutual trust.”

“The less openness, the less trust. and consequently, security,” the statement said.

The Foreign Ministry said that while an extensive fleet of spy satellites could help the U.S. compensate for a lack of observation flights if it withdraws from the Open Skies Treaty, the interests of the accord’s remaining participants would be hurt and security in Europe would therefore suffer.

The foreign ministries of Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden said last week they would continue to implement the accord as “a crucial element of the confidence-building framework that was created over the past decades in order to improve transparency and security across the Euro-Atlantic area.”

They called on Russia to lift flight restrictions, notably over its westernmost Kaliningrad region, which lies between NATO allies Lithuania and Poland. Of the 10 countries, Finland and Sweden are not NATO members.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov argued that the limits on flights over Kaliningrad were permissable under the treaty’s terms. Lavrov asserted that the U.S. has imposed more sweeping restrictions on observation flights over Alaska.

Moscow hasn’t said whether it would stay in the pact if Washington withdraws. The Russian government intends to “take a well-balanced approach to the situation based on our national interests,” Lavrov said.

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