United States of America
STATEMENT BY MR. VLADIMIR YERMAK, DIRECTOR OF THE DEPARTMENT FOR NON-PROLIFERATION AND ARMS CONTROL, MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION, AT THE CLOSING SESSION OF THE FOURTH REVIEW CONFERENCE ON THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE TREATY ON OPEN SKIES (9 October 2020)
First of all, we should like to express our gratitude to the Belgian Chairmanship for the excellent organization of the Review Conference.
Discussions have taken place on practically the entire range of Treaty implementation problems over the past difficult five-year period. Overall, they provide decent food for thought, although not all the Conference participants succeeded in speaking in a constructive, considered and reasonable manner.
Let us briefly summarize our impressions.
We agree with the assessment by many States Parties that practical co-operation within the framework of the Treaty has developed quite successfully in recent years. This is demonstrated by the significant number of observation flights, the majority of which took place in a friendly atmosphere that was free of conflict. The call “Let’s go digital”, which came incidentally from our US colleagues, was heeded. Through our joint efforts, we began to overcome the restrictions imposed on the implementation of the Treaty on Open Skies by the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the situation deteriorated rapidly once individual States Parties started to politicize problems connected with the Treaty, making it a hostage to their demands in the form of ultimatums, which at times were not in any way related to the Open Skies topic. We recall, for example, the disruptions to the work of the Open Skies Consultative Commission (OSCC) during the period from 2010 to 2013 and the year 2018, in which no flights were conducted at all. Now comes the inevitable reduction in the Treaty’s membership. Let us ask ourselves a question: have these events strengthened the viability of the Treaty on Open Skies and European security? The answer is obviously “no”. The security of those of our partners whose actions have produced this result has not been strengthened either.
Unfortunately, many of our colleagues, especially those belonging to various alliances, have developed an indifferent and passive attitude towards the fate of the Treaty on Open Skies, which has also manifested itself at this Conference. It seems to them that in any case the “major players” will resolve all the problems and will save the Treaty. As a result, one of these “major players” began making inappropriate decisions without even looking at the interests of its allies (incidentally, this does not by any means apply only to the Treaty on Open Skies).
I would hope that the current situation will encourage every State remaining in the Treaty to realize its interests and its responsibility for the future of the Open Skies regime. Otherwise, we all risk no longer meeting in this format in five years’ time – a scenario that is quite likely if the current destructive trends continue and we fail to confront them together.
The Russian Federation regards the Treaty as an important legally binding agreement intended to ensure openness and transparency among the States Parties in the Euro-Atlantic area. Russia is implementing in full the Treaty provisions and also the OSCC decisions. The more than 500 observation flights accepted are evidence of this. I emphasize that none of the notifications regarding the intention to conduct these flights over the territory of the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation group of States Parties have been rejected by us.
In contrast to our full implementation of the Treaty, some States Parties close, entirely or partially, their inland or overseas territories to observation flights by the Russian Federation, cancel overnight rest stops for Russian crews at refuelling airfields, establish restrictions on the flight altitude of observation aircraft that are not provided for in the Treaty on Open Skies and run contrary to the recommendations of the International Civil Aviation Organization, and unduly drag out the issuing of visas to Russian designated personnel in relation to the time-frames established by the Treaty. These are blatant violations of key Treaty provisions. Unfortunately, they are not receiving an objective assessment on the part of the Open Skies community. The Russian Federation calls on the States Parties that are permitting such violations to implement the Treaty properly and in full. In that context, we support the position of the final document that the Treaty on Open Skies continues to function and remains useful “when its provisions are fully respected”.
The collective repetition of the “mantra” that Russia should fulfil the provisions of the Treaty on Open Skies only as they are interpreted by some States Parties is pointless and futile. If our partners really want the existing problems to be resolved, then they should recognize the need for steps on their part to accommodate Russian concerns.
It is definite that the United States of America will cease to participate in the Treaty on 22 November. In these circumstances, it is essential that all the States that are allies of the United States reaffirm their commitment to adhere strictly to the provisions of the Treaty, including confining information to the Parties to the Treaty on Open Skies and not communicating it to States outside the legal Treaty framework. In the event that Russia’s rights as a State Party to the Treaty are infringed, we will be forced to take measures in response.
Ultimately, Russia needs the Treaty on Open Skies to exactly the same degree that our partners do. Expecting this to be otherwise could be seriously detrimental to them, as has already happened before (for example, with the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe). We will develop our policy regarding the Treaty on the basis of the national interests of Russia and our allies and subject to the continuous monitoring of the statements and actions of the other Parties to the Treaty. At the same time, we will keep our options open as to further steps.
On the whole, the outcome of the Conference has confirmed that difficult times lie ahead of the Open Skies community. Nevertheless, I would hope that the common sense and spirit of co-operation underpinning the Treaty will prevail and will make it possible to maintain fruitful dialogue and, ultimately, to address mutual concerns and ensure the viability of the Treaty. The general acknowledgement of the importance of the Treaty and the commitment of the States Parties to uphold and strengthen it, both of which were apparent during the Conference, offer some hope to that end.
Thank you, Mr. Chairperson. I request that this statement be attached to the journal of the Conference.