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8 October 202019:44

STATEMENT BY MR. SERGEY RYABKOV, DEPUTY MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION, AT THE OPENING SESSION OF THE FOURTH REVIEW CONFERENCE ON THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE TREATY ON OPEN SKIES (7 October 2020)

1678-08-10-2020

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Mr. Chairperson,

Your Excellencies,

Distinguished Conference participants and guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

 First of all, I should like to express our gratitude to Belgium and to you personally, Mr. Chairperson, for the excellent organization of this event.

 Today and over the next two days, we shall be examining the implementation of the Treaty on Open Skies as an instrument for enhancing transparency and security in the OSCE area. We also need to assess the specifics of its implementation over the past five years, the viability of the Treaty and its adaptability to the challenges of the times, including formulating a response to force majeure circumstances.

 Over a period of almost two decades, the Open Skies regime has been making a significant contribution to the strengthening of security and confidence on the basis of co-operation among its States Parties. This has been demonstrated by the timely preparation of the technical and infrastructural framework for the Treaty’s implementation, the expansion of the number of States that have acceded to the Treaty, the development and approval of documents regulating and clarifying the procedures for its implementation and, ultimately, the conduct by States Parties of over 1,500 observation flights, of which two thirds are accounted for by the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation group of States Parties, including flights over its territory.

 The transition to digital sensors was a qualitatively new stage in the Treaty’s implementation. The Russian Federation continues to serve as an example in this important process to this day.

The transition to the new technological level of sensors in the Open Skies regime has involved significant outlays in terms of creativity and production and financial resources for the development of digital sensors and the re-equipping of observation aircraft to use them. Considerable effort by all States Parties was required for the preparation of the documentation regulating the procedures for the certification of digital sensors and their use during observation missions.

The successful conduct of the certification procedures would certainly not have been possible without the spirit of co-operation and mutual assistance displayed by the States Parties’ highly qualified experts in the preparations and during the certification events.

 I should like to believe that, in the future, the Treaty will operate on the basis of digital technology when observation missions are conducted.

 The five-year period under review went as planned and proceeded in a generally constructive manner until 2018. Unfortunately, we were unable to avoid serious negative challenges.

Thus, in 2018, owing to the destructive position taken by one State Party, the Treaty was deprived of its principal substantive function, namely of real observation missions on the basis of active quotas for observation flights. The Open Skies community returned to unimpaired operation of the Treaty in 2019 only thanks to the good will and flexibility shown by the Russian Federation.

 However, this year has brought new challenges. The force majeure situation associated with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is testing the resilience of the Treaty on Open Skies. The operational pause (the time during which there were no flights) significantly weakened the inspection mechanism and resulted in the cancellation of planned quota observation flights in the period most conducive to their conduct in terms of weather conditions, namely from April to October of this year.

 In our view, some selective quota flights, which started in August, give us hope that the principal component of the Open Skies regime will soon return to full strength.

The successful distribution of active quotas for observation flights in the year 2021 attests to the continued interest of the States Parties to the Treaty on Open Skies in its practical implementation. Next year, we look forward to the full functioning of the Treaty, unless it is again hampered by the COVID-19 epidemic.

 At the end of the five-year period, the decision of the United States of America to withdraw from the Treaty posed a serious challenge to the Treaty’s viability. According to a statement by a representative of the Department of State, the Treaty is not in the interests of the United States. The US Government was guided by its national interests when deciding to withdraw from the Treaty on Open Skies and does not intend to reconsider this decision.

 In 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower advocated the Open Skies regime, as did President George H. W. Bush in 1989, because it was apparently in the national interests of the United States at that time.

 In March 1992, when welcoming the signing of the Treaty, the United States recognized “[the importance of] the Open Skies regime” and assessed “the Treaty as an important element in [the process of] enhancing security and confidence”, reiterating in that connection “the importance of the principle of equal security for all […]”. Back then, these axioms, as we can see, were also in the national interests of the United States.

Today, however, we are observing a turnaround on the part of the US Government that is clear to everyone.

The Russian Federation expresses its regret once more in connection with the decision of the United States to withdraw from the Treaty. This step, which did not come as a surprise to us against the backdrop of the US Government’s general policy towards international agreements, including those concerned with non-proliferation and disarmament, has already caused serious damage to the package of arms control agreements and was a major blow to European security.

 It has prompted us to look carefully at the balance of rights and obligations set out in the Treaty. Upon withdrawing from the Treaty on Open Skies, a Party relinquishes the relevant obligations, first and foremost the obligation to accept observation flights over its territory. At the same time, if this State is a member of an alliance, it may request information about third countries from its allies, and we are not aware of any exceptions concerning data collected during Open Skies missions. However, the Treaty on Open Skies (Article IX, Section I, paragraph 4 and Article IX, Section IV) clearly stipulates that only a State Party may receive such data and it must use these data exclusively for the attainment of the purposes of the Treaty.

Thus, at the very least, the allies of the State withdrawing from the Treaty on Open Skies may encounter a conflict of obligations. We believe it is necessary to rule out such a conflict by confirming that the Treaty provisions have priority in this case. We have asked the States Parties to put down in writing an understanding in this regard through an exchange of notes verbales. I have to admit that we were disappointed by the reaction of quite a number of them. The reluctance to reaffirm in full measure their Treaty obligations makes us seriously question their true intentions. The discussion on this subject is not over. We will continue to analyse the situation from the point of view of what possible steps we can take in response.

Despite the objective and subjective challenges to the Open Skies regime, we believe that the Treaty still has the potential to remain among the legally binding relevant international agreements, and contributes to the enhancing of security and mutual trust.

At the same time, we will determine our future course as regards the Treaty on Open Skies in the light of the statements and actions of the other Parties to the Treaty, including the outcome of the Review Conference.

Mr. Chairperson,

 I cannot but respond to a number of the previous statements, in which we heard hackneyed calls for Russia to “return to implementation of the Treaty in good faith”. It is worth recalling which States are violating the Treaty and which are being included among those States for no good reason.

 As for the complaints about the Russian Federation, I see no point in going into them in detail, because answers have been provided to our colleagues on dozens of occasions in the most diverse formats. Those who would like to learn more about our position can refer to the material of the recent Conference of the States Parties to the Treaty on Open Skies to discuss the implications of the US withdrawal from the Treaty. I would merely add that the far-fetched nature of our opponents’ accusations has become even more evident recently, when Russia, in full compliance with the provisions of the Treaty on Open Skies, accepted an Open Skies mission over the areas where the “Caucasus 2020” exercise was being conducted and, in displaying good will, permitted a flight over the Kaliningrad region covering a distance exceeding the officially established maximum flight distance.

By the same token, over the past five years we have had serious questions on numerous occasions for a number of our partners, who are hindering the normal functioning of the Treaty through their actions. I will respond only to those of them who made accusations today against the Russian Federation (and will do so in the order in which they spoke).

 In particular, France has so far (since 2002) failed to provide information on the procedures for conducting observation flights over remote territories, thus preventing their conduct.

The United Kingdom has established flight altitude restrictions not provided for in the Treaty, thus preventing the use of certified configurations of Russian observation aircraft, and also so far (since 2002) has failed to provide information on the procedures for conducting observation flights over remote territories, thus preventing their conduct. In his statement, the distinguished British representative just claimed that his country has been demonstrating its commitment to the Treaty “in word and deed”. I do not know about their words, but the British deeds have raised many concerns on our part.

 Canada ruled out the possibility of conducting observation flights over its territory and over the territory of the United States by refusing to provide a sufficient number of intermediate stops for Russian An-30B aircraft. It has established flight altitude restrictions not provided for in the Treaty, thus preventing the use of certified configurations of Russian observation aircraft. It has failed to comply with the established time-frames and procedures for issuing visas to designated personnel.

 

 Poland has banned, or imposed restrictions on, flights over prohibited areas and in hazardous airspace. These measures do not comply with the provisions of the Treaty on Open Skies and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) recommendations.

I recommend that the distinguished representatives of Poland and Lithuania familiarize themselves with the real state of affairs following the sovereign choice of the Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol to rejoin the Russian Federation. A more detailed response to your statements will be provided at a later stage during the Conference. The Treaty on Open Skies is inherently a technical document aimed at strengthening confidence and increasing transparency, but you are politicizing matters. Your closest ally is withdrawing from the Treaty, but you fail to pay any attention to this fact.

 In conclusion – a question to our esteemed colleague from Sweden. What exactly motivated you to use the phrase “rules-based European security order”? We are perplexed. After hearing your statement, our delegation looked through many documents from the Open Skies Consultative Commission and review conferences, and checked the Helsinki Final Act and the Charter of Paris. We did not find any such thing. There is no agreed language on a “rules-based European security order”.

We cannot follow what does not exist.

Thank you, Mr. Chairperson. I request that this statement be attached to the journal of the day.

 

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