WASHINGTON – The Biden administration told Russia on Thursday it will not rejoin a key arms control pact, although the two sides are preparing for a summit next month between their leaders. said the State Department.
U.S. officials said Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told the Russians that the administration had decided not to re-enter the Open Skies Treaty, which had allowed surveillance flights over military installations. both countries before President Donald Trump withdrew from the pact. As a presidential candidate, Biden had criticized Trump’s withdrawal as “short-sighted.”
Thursday’s decision means only one major arms control treaty will remain between the nuclear powers: the new START treaty. Trump had done nothing to expand the new START, which would have expired earlier this year, but after taking office, the Biden administration moved quickly to extend it for five years and opened a review of the withdrawal of Trump’s Open Skies Treaty.
Officials said the review had been completed and that Sherman had informed Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov of the U.S. decision not to return to the 1992 Open Skies Treaty. Officials were not allowed to discuss the issue. matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. Later, the State Department announced the move.
“The United States regrets that the open skies treaty has been undermined by Russia’s violations,” the department said. “In concluding the revision of the treaty, the United States therefore has no intention of rejoining it, as Russia has not taken any steps to return to compliance. In addition, Russia’s behavior, including his recent actions with respect to Ukraine, is not that of a partner committed to building trust. “
June meeting in Geneva
The announcement comes ahead of a meeting between President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 16 in Geneva, Switzerland. They will try to find common ground in the midst of a sharp deterioration in ties that have sunk relationships to their lowest point in decades. Still, Biden, who had backed the treaty as a senator, had been very critical of Trump’s withdrawal.
“In announcing his intention to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, President Trump has doubled his short-distance policy of following him alone and abandoning the American leadership,” then-candidate Biden said in May 2020 .
The Open Skies Treaty aimed to build trust between Russia and the West, as it allowed more than three dozen signatories to the agreement to conduct reconnaissance flights over each other’s territories to gather information on military forces and activities. More than 1,500 flights have been carried out under the treaty since it entered into force in 2002, with the aim of promoting transparency and enabling arms control and other agreements.
The Trump administration announced the withdrawal of the United States from the treaty last year and the lower house of the Russian parliament voted last week to follow suit. But by Thursday, both sides had said the treaty could still be revoked. Russian officials said they were willing to reconsider their withdrawal if the U.S. did the same.
The upper house of the Russian parliament, the Federation Council, was expected to approve the withdrawal bill on June 2, and once Putin signed the measure, it would take six months for the Russian exit to take effect.
A measure of building trust
Thursday’s notification, however, appears to mark the end of the treaty, which was widely supported by U.S. allies in Europe and Democrats in Congress as a confidence-building measure among former Cold War opponents.
Withdrawing from the pact, Trump argued that Russian rapes made it untenable for Washington to remain part of the deal. Washington completed its withdrawal from the treaty in November, but the Biden administration had said it was not opposed to rejoining it.
Officials stressed the Biden administration’s willingness to cooperate with Russia on issues of mutual interest and noted the extension of New START, which was initially signed in 2010 by President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The pact limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers and provides for on-site inspections to verify compliance.
However, officials said that despite calls for Russia to comply with the Open Skies Treaty, there was no practical way for the U.S. to reverse the Trump administration’s withdrawal decision. An official said that since Biden took office, Russia had shown a “total lack of progress” in taking steps to return to compliance.
Officials said Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, and other senior U.S. officials had warned their Russian counterparts last week that the decision on open skies was imminent. Blinken met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Iceland last week and Sullivan spoke Monday with Putin’s national security adviser Nikolay Patrushev.
Moscow had deplored the withdrawal of the United States, warning that it would erode global security by making it difficult for governments to interpret the intentions of other nations, especially amid tensions between Russia and the West over countless issues, including Ukraine, cyber deterioration and the treatment of the Russians. opposition figure Alexei Navalny and his supporters.
Leading Democrats in Congress and members of the European Union had urged the US to reconsider its exit and called on Russia to remain in the pact and lift flight restrictions, especially in the westernmost region of Kaliningrad, which is located. among NATO allies, Lithuania and Poland.
Russia had insisted that restrictions on observation flights it imposed in the past were permissible under the treaty and noted that the United States imposed more general restrictions on observation flights over Alaska.
As a condition for remaining in the pact after the U.S. withdrawal, Moscow had unsuccessfully pushed for assurances from NATO allies that it would not deliver to the U.S. the data collected during its observation flights over Russia.