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What Russia’s exit means for the Open Skies Treaty?

Topics Covered: Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.

What Russia’s exit means for the Open Skies Treaty?


Russia has announced that it is leaving the Open Skies Treaty (OST).

What is the Open Skies Treaty?

It is an accord between over 30 countries that allows participants to fly unarmed reconnaissance flights over any part of their fellow member states.

  • First proposed in 1955 by former US President Dwight Eisenhower as a means to deescalate tensions during the Cold War, the landmark treaty was eventually signed in 1992 between NATO members and former Warsaw Pact countries following the demise of the Soviet Union.
  • It went into effect in 2002 and had signatories, including key players US and Russia, along with one non-ratifying member (Kyrgyzstan).

Aims of the OST:

Build confidence among members through mutual openness, thus reducing the chances of accidental war.

Features of the treaty:

  1. Under the treaty, a member state can “spy” on any part of the host nation, with the latter’s consent.
  2. A country can undertake aerial imaging over the host state after giving notice 72 hours before, and sharing its exact flight path 24 hours before.
  3. The information gathered, such as on troop movements, military exercises and missile deployments, has to be shared with all member states.
  4. Only approved imaging equipment is permitted on the surveillance flights, and officials from the host state can also stay on board throughout the planned journey.

Why did Russia leave after the US?

In May 2020, the Trump administration announced its intention of withdrawing from the OST, accusing Russia of “flagrantly and continuously violating the Treaty in various ways for years”.

  • Now, Russia has attributed this move to “the lack of progress in removing obstacles for the continued functioning of the agreement.”
  • Moscow is worried that the U.S.’s withdrawal restricts its access to American territory, while Washington’s allies in Europe can continue flyovers over Russian territory to collect intelligence that could be handed to the U.S.


Experts now worry about the fate of the much larger US-Russia ‘New START’ nuclear arms control agreement, which is slated to expire on February 5, 2021 while US President-elect Joe Biden has spoken in favour of preserving the treaty.



Prelims Link:

  1. What is open skies treaty?
  2. Members.
  3. Objectives.
  4. Features.

Mains Link:

Discuss the key features of open skies treaty.

Sources: Indian Express.