Russia Votes to Exit Open Skies Treaty, Blaming U.S. For Ignoring 'Voice of Reason'

Russia's parliament has voted to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, which allows observation flights over signatories' territories, as lawmakers in Moscow lined up to blame the U.S. over its earlier exit from the accord.

In a widely expected move, the State Duma voted on Wednesday to withdraw Russia from the agreement which was signed in 1992 and came into force in 2002.

It followed one of Donald Trump's final decisions as president in November when his administration said the U.S. would leave the accord that his administration had accused Russia of violating; claims which Moscow has always denied.

Under the treaty's terms, 34 members can conduct unarmed observation flights over each other's territories to collect data. Its supporters say it allows adversaries to see that they are not preparing to launch attacks and offers a degree of transparency over members' military intentions.

In January, Russia announced it would follow the U.S. in exiting the agreement, and last week, President Vladimir Putin submitted legislation to formalize its withdrawal in a further blow to international arms control.

Russian Tupolev-214 Reconnaissance airplane.
A picture taken on March 2, 2020, shows a Russian Tupolev-214R reconnaissance airplane. Russia's parliament has voted to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty that allows unarmed surveillance flights over member countries.

With relations already at a low point between Russia and the U.S., deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters on Wednesday that the withdrawal from Open Skies was inevitable because the U.S. and its allies did not want to "listen to the voice of reason."

"We called on them dozens of times not to be too hasty, to weigh the opportunities we were retaining, to return to the treaty," Ryabkov said.

"This didn't happen. In full accordance with the president's formulation, the Russian Federation is moving towards completing its internal procedures," he added.

Leonid Slutsky, who heads the Duma's international affairs committee, accused the U.S. of itself violating the treaty by limiting Russian flights and operations over Alaska, Hawaii and the Aleutian Islands, according to Russian news agency Tass.

House speaker Vyacheslav Volodin had earlier accused the U.S. of "consistently destroying the entire architecture of international security," with its Open Skies withdrawal.

Meanwhile, Vladimir Shamanov, who heads the parliamentary defense committee, told reporters after the vote that even with the U.S. withdrawal, Washington, D.C., was still able to receive information from other NATO countries remaining in the agreement.

He added that Moscow's withdrawal "fully meets the interests of the Russian Federation and will have a positive effect on ensuring military security," Tass reported.

The withdrawal must still be approved by Russia's upper house of parliament and signed by Putin to take effect after which Open Skies members would be given six months' notice.

The Biden administration is reportedly reluctant to rejoin the accord since it would send the "wrong signal" to Moscow, according to a diplomatic memo obtained by Defense News last month.

A State Department spokesperson told Newsweek that no decision has been made on the future of U.S. participation in the Open Skies Treaty.

"It is unfortunate that rather than address their violations of the Treaty on Open Skies, Russia seems to have made a decision to withdraw from the Treaty," the spokesperson said in a statement.

"The United States is actively reviewing matters related to the treaty and consulting with our allies and partners.

"Russia's continuing noncompliance with the Treaty is one of several pertinent factors. As this process continues, we encourage Russia to take steps to come back into compliance with the agreement."

Update 5/19/21, 12:45 p.m. ET: This article was updated with a response to Newsweek from the State Department.