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United States, Russia remain at ‘impasse’ over Open Skies treaty flights

Written by Aaron Mehta

The United States and Russia continue to be at odds with each other over a military verification treaty, to the point where no flights have been conducted in 2018.

The latest issue with the Open Skies Treaty came to light earlier this week, with Russian officials saying the U.S. has refused to clear its planes for overflight of U.S. territory. Under the treaty, 34 countries, including both the U.S. and Russia, agree to allow unarmed surveillance flights over their territory to provide information gathering about military forces.

“In breach of the Open Skies Treaty provisions, the head of the U.S. delegation refused to sign the final document, without giving any explanations or reasons, and citing direct instructions from Washington,” said Sergei Ryzhkov, the chief of Russia’s Nuclear Risk Reduction Center, according to the Tass news agency.

“We insist that the U.S. side return to the Open Skies Treaty framework and demand that the current situation be explained with reference to the treaty’s provisions,” Ryzhkov said.

This comes on the heels of Russian news reports over the summer claiming the U.S. had dropped out entirely of the agreement, something a U.S. State Department official denied was the case.

However, that official acknowledged there have been no Open Skies flights conducted in 2018 thanks to ongoing disagreements between the two nations.

“To the best recollection of our experts, we have not denied any Russian flights that were conducted in accordance with the Treaty,” the official said.

Speaking at the Defense Writers Group on Sept. 7, Andrea Thompson, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said talks are at an “impasse” between the two countries.

“It’s at an impasse, but we’re having discussions. There are some things that Russia needs to do to get back into compliance with that,” Thompson said at the time. “We’re having those discussions, they’re ongoing. So that’s the most important part, that the dialogue is occurring and to get them back in compliance. And then we’ll move forward.”

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About the author

Aaron Mehta

Aaron Mehta is Deputy Editor and Senior Pentagon Correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Department of Defense and its international partners.