26 January 202112:49

Statement by the Head of Delegation of the Russian Federation to the Vienna Negotiations on Military Security and Arms Control K.Gavrilov at the meeting of the 84th session of the Open Skies Consultative Commission (OSCC), Vienna, 25 January 2021


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Distinguished Mrs. Chairman,

Distinguished Colleagues,

In May last year, the Treaty on Open Skies was for the first time in its 30-year history faced with an unprecedented situation when one of its States Parties – the United States of America – announced the intention to leave its legal framework.

Let me remind you that Washington’s participation in the Open Skies Treaty (OST) and the possibility to observe the U.S. territory was one of the main conditions for its entry into force. It was with consideration of this factor that our parliament ratified the Treaty in 2001 having agreed to accept observation flights over the entire territory of Russia. I should stress that the decision to open our territory for observation from the air was not an easy one and it took almost a decade to negotiate it. By ratifying the Treaty, the Russian Federation reaffirmed the fundamental importance that we attribute to building cooperative security, and the enhancement of politico-military predictability in Europe.

Right from the outset did we warn of destructive consequences of the U.S. decision both for the Open Skies Treaty and the pan-European security in general. Washington’s withdrawal from the Treaty on 22 November 2020 fundamentally changed the configuration established when the OST was conceived and destroyed the balance of interests of the States Parties. This dealt a serious blow to one of the pillars of confidence building in military field. Inevitably, the Treaty on Open Skies started losing its viability.

The U.S. announcement of its withdrawal from the Open Skies regime was accompanied by artificial accusations against the Russian Federation of allegedly “violating” the Treaty and “distorting” its essence. The Russian side repeatedly explained both at the OSCC and in bilateral contacts with our partners that such claims were unfounded and provided facts to substantiate its arguments.

For some reason it escaped the attention of the U.S. and other States Parties that Washington for years ignored the questions addressed to it as a result of really serious facts of incompliance with the Treaty. In violation of the OST, the U.S. side established maximum flight distance over the Hawaii islands from the Hickam refueling airfield. It denied Russian crew members night rest stops at the Robins and Ellsworth refueling airfields. For years, it allowed shorter flight distance from the Elmendorf airfield than required by the Treaty. Without any documentary support, it introduced limitations of flight altitude of observation planes not provided for under the Treaty and contradicting ICAO recommendations.

Russia also has some other questions concerning compliance with the Treaty both by the U.S. and some other States Parties. Nevertheless, at all stages we continued to implement our obligations under the Treaty in full measure and demonstrated openness for meticulous work to settle mutual concerns.

In a situation when the U.S. decided to leave the Open Skies community Russia did it utmost to save the Treaty. We put forward specific proposals in line with fundamental Treaty provisions in order to maintain its effectiveness under the new circumstances. At the same time, we did warn that we would take decisive reciprocal steps in case the rights of Russia as a State Party are to be constrained.

The Open Skies Treaty is based on the principle of equal rights and obligations of the parties. But Washington’s withdrawal from the Treaty called it into question: whereas all members of the North-Atlantic Alliance continued to have a possibility to observe the territory of Russia, the territory of the main stakeholder in the NATO, the U.S., remained closed for Russian observation.

Besides we have clear evidence that the U.S. demands from its allies to sign documents under which they would transfer to the U.S. side the data obtained during observation flights over Russia and deny Russian Open Skies missions flights over U.S. military facilities in Europe. This would not only considerably shift the information balance within the Open Skies Treaty, and not to Russia’s benefit, but also be a grave violation of the Treaty. From the point of view of our national security, such situation would be absolutely unacceptable for our country.

In order to resolve the problem of data protection within the Open Skies Treaty, last year the Russian delegation put forward at the OSCC a draft updated Decision No. 9/02 “Protection of data collected during observation flights and transfer of recording media containing this data” with an explicit ban on transferring such data to third parties.

Naturally, the guarantees of data protection should be ensured not only through blocking standard access thereto provided under the Treaty (i.e. by means of submitting official requests through the OSCE Communication Network in the respective format “Request for data collected during an observation flight”), but also non-transfer of such data by any other means. It is not a secret that the U.S. does have backchannels for receiving data obtained during observation flights. NATO has the Joint Intelligence and Security Division at its headquarters in Brussels with a special analytic group lead by a U.S. senior officer.

The second requirement that would cost minimum effort to the remaining States Parties but be of principled importance for our country was a confirmation of their readiness to allow observation over their entire territory, including U.S. military facilities in Europe.

In late December, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent the States Parties a Note Verbale calling them to reaffirm in a legally binding form their obligation not to share data obtained during observation flights with non-States Parties and not to create obstacles for Open Skies missions over U.S. military infrastructure in OST States Parties.

Regretfully, it followed from the answers that we received that our partners were not ready to take responsibility for the future of the Treaty and make swift steps to keep it alive.

Since May 2020, the Russian Federation carefully followed and analyzed statements and actions of the States Parties and warned them on many occasions that our future steps depended on them. The situation we were facing in the past weeks showed that our partners chose to artificially delay and put on a shelf the resolution of issues immediately affecting our national security. The reasons behind such policy are rather clear: obligations of most remaining States Parties came into contradiction with their obligations to the U.S. within the NATO.

Since our proposals for ensuring the viability of the Treaty were ignored and given the remaining threats for the Russian Federation in this respect, the leadership of our country took the decision to initiate domestic procedures for the withdrawal from the Treaty. Upon their completion, respective notification will be sent to the Depositaries of the Treaty.

We regret that the lack of political realism and constructive approach on the part of the States Parties led to this situation. If our Western partners wish to make reproaches, they should only address them to themselves.

I thank you, Mrs. Chairman, and ask that this statement be attached to the Journal of the day.

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