U.S. Decision Not to Rejoin Open Skies Leaves Just 1 Treaty Agreement with Russia

After the Biden administration announced Thursday that the United States would not be re-entering the Open Skies Treaty, the U.S. has only one remaining arms-control treaty with Russia.

In an effort to promote trust between Russia and the West, the Open Skies Treaty allows the involved countries to freely fly over other nations to gather military information. The Trump administration withdrew the U.S. from the treaty last year, an action that Biden reviewed once he took office.

The remaining New START Treaty with Russia might have expired earlier this year as well due to inaction by the Trump administration, but Biden issued a five-year extension for it when he took office. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman informed Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on Thursday of the U.S. decision to not rejoin Open Skies.

Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin are due to meet on June 16 in Geneva, Switzerland, where they will discuss the relational decline between the U.S. and Russia, the Associated Press reported.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Russia Exits Open Skies Treaty
After the Biden administration announced Thursday that the U.S. would not be re-entering the Open Skies Treaty, the U.S. has only one remaining arms control treaty with Russia. Above, in a photo provided by the State Duma, deputies attend a session at the State Duma, the Lower House of the Russian Parliament in Moscow, Russia, on May 19, 2021. The State Duma, The Federal Assembly of The Russian Federation/AP Photo

The Trump administration announced the U.S. withdrawal from the treaty last year, and the lower house of Russia's parliament voted last week to follow suit. But until Thursday, the two sides had said the treaty could still be salvaged. Russian officials said they were willing to reconsider their withdrawal if the U.S. did the same.

The upper house of Russia's 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.

Thursday's notification, however, appears to mark the end of the treaty, which was broadly supported by U.S. allies in Europe and Democrats in Congress as a trust-building measure between the former Cold War adversaries.

In pulling out of the pact, Trump argued that Russian violations made it untenable for Washington to remain a party to the agreement. Washington completed its withdrawal from the treaty in November, but the Biden administration had said it was not opposed to rejoining it.

The officials stressed the Biden administration's willingness to cooperate with Russia on issues of mutual concern 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 envisages sweeping on-site inspections to verify compliance.

However, the officials said that despite appeals for Russia to abide by the Open Skies Treaty, there was no practical way for the U.S. to reverse the Trump administration's decision to withdraw. One official said that since Biden had taken office, Russia had demonstrated a "complete absence of progress" in taking steps to return to compliance.

The officials said Secretary of State Antony Blinken, national security adviser Jake Sullivan and other senior American officials had warned their Russian counterparts in the past week that a decision on Open Skies was imminent. Blinken met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Iceland last week, and Sullivan spoke with Putin's national security adviser, Nikolay Patrushev, on Monday.

Moscow had deplored the U.S. pullout, warning that it would erode global security by making it more difficult for governments to interpret the intentions of other nations, particularly amid heightened Russia-West tensions over myriad issues, including Ukraine, cyber malfeasance and the treatment of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny and his supporters.

Leading congressional Democrats and members of the European Union had urged the U.S. to reconsider its exit and called on Russia to stay in the pact and lift flight restrictions, notably over its westernmost Kaliningrad region, which lies between NATO allies Lithuania and Poland.

Russia had insisted the restrictions on observation flights it imposed in the past were permissible under the treaty and noted that the U.S. imposed more sweeping restrictions on observation flights over Alaska.

As a condition for staying in the pact after the U.S. pullout, Moscow had unsuccessfully pushed for guarantees from NATO allies that they wouldn't hand over the data collected during their observation flights over Russia to the U.S.

President Joe Biden
The Biden administration announced Thursday that the U.S. would not be rejoining the Open Skies Treaty after withdrawing during the Trump presidency. Above, President Joe Biden departs the White House for Cleveland, Ohio, on May 27, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Win McNamee/Getty Images