Trump administration officials confirmed on Sunday morning that President Trump has formally ended the United States’ participation in the Open Skies Treaty with Russia.
The US began the process of withdrawing from the arms control pact on May 22, making the departure official as of November 22, 2020. State Department deputy spokesperson Cale Brown said in a statement on Sunday:
On May 22, 2020, the United States exercised its right pursuant to paragraph 2 of Article XV of the Treaty on Open Skies by providing notice to the Treaty Depositaries and to all States Parties of its decision to withdraw from the Treaty, effective six months from the notification date.
“Six months having elapsed, the U.S. withdrawal took effect on November 22, 2020, and the United States is no longer a State Party to the Treaty on Open Skies,” Brown added.
The Open Skies Treaty was first signed in 1992 with the intent of allowing unarmed reconnaissance flights over the territories of all participating nations in order to collect data on military forces in those nations.
In recent years, however, squabbles between Russia and the US have arisen, with the US accusing Russia of violating the agreement on numerous occasions by barring the US from actually being able to conduct the surveillance flights over Russian territory.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo explained in May the Trump administration’s concerns about Russia’s refusal to honor the terms of the agreement, which led to scrapping the deal altogether. Pompeo said at the time:
While the United States, along with our Allies and partners that are States Parties to the treaty, have lived up to our commitments and obligations under the treaty, Russia has flagrantly and continuously violated the treaty in various ways for years. This is not a story exclusive to just the treaty on Open Skies, unfortunately, for Russia has been a serial violator of many of its arms control obligations and commitments.
Of course, Democrat legislators opposed Trump’s initial decision to withdraw from the treaty, complaining at the time that the “timing” of the withdrawal was “suspect.”
“The timing of your decision — less than five months before an election — is also suspect,” wrote Senate Democrats in a letter to Pentagon leaders. “Beginning the U.S. withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty, without complying with U.S. domestic law or constitutional practice, is an obvious political maneuver in an attempt to bind a future administration.”
Senate Democrats went on to “demand” that the Trump administration halt the process of withdrawal, a request that fell on deaf ears. The Pentagon issued a statement over the summer declaring once again that “it has become abundantly clear that it is no longer in the United States’ best interest to remain a party to this treaty when Russia does not uphold its commitments.”