As a sign of the escalating tensions with Russia, The Trump Administration announced they plan to restrict Russian military flights over U.S. territory under a Cold-War era agreement.
The treaty – part of a series of “confidence-building” and transparency agreements, permits the U.S., Russia and the other 32 states to conduct “observation flights” over each other’s territory while capturing aerial imagery of military personnel, bases, and hardware.
It’s called the “Open Skies” agreement and things got tense two days last month when a Russian plane flew over Washington D.C. and Bedminser, New Jersey, right as Trump was staying at his golf club in the town.
Russia is in violation of the Open Skies treaty because the Kremlin has imposed restrictions on Kaliningrad – a small Russian enclave in the Baltics sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania. American officials believe that small plot of land is host to a cache of sophisticated military weaponry.
The treaty allows for a “per-flight” range of about 3,400 miles – but Russia has enforced what they call a “sublimit” of 300 miles for flights over the small province. Since it takes 750 miles to fly the entirety of the province, the entire area is effectively off limit, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Perhaps more important, this limitation enforces gaps between the flights needed to cross Kaliningrad, providing an incoherent picture of the territory, U.S. officials maintain.
U.S. officials question what the Russian military in Kaliningrad may be doing between Open Skies flights, stressing the importance of knowing Russian military capabilities at their westernmost expansion.
The US delegation to the treaty will announce their “reciprocal countermeasures” during a meeting today in Vienna.
“We want to induce Russia to come back into compliance with the treaty,” said a senior State Department official, adding measures the U.S. takes that are reversible could prod Moscow.
Included in the restrictions are limitations to flights over Alaska and Hawaii – two areas of particular interest to Russia, given their geographic proximity to the country.
For their part, Russians claim that many other states that participate in Open Skies also impose restrictions.
“We have serious claims that a number of participating states are interfering with observation flights,” retired Maj. Gen. Alexander Peresypkin, a member of Russia’s Vienna delegation, told The Wall Street Journal. “Our partners, in an attempt to ‘balance’ mutual claims, often just come up with small problems, elevated to the rank of big ones.”
All of this is indicative of a gradual breakdown in relations, a State Department official said. “Russia wants to renegotiate the European security relationship. We’re seeing European security agreements erode.”
U.S. officials are most concerned about Kaliningrad and the suspected buildup of military hardware there.
“There have been reports about all kinds of sophisticated radar systems—air defense, area denial capabilities—designed to keep NATO warships and airships away,” said Michael Carpenter, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense with responsibility for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia. “If they have that sort of weaponry, we would like to have more transparency about what is there.”
What do you think? Should we even be allowing Russians to fly over American airspace? Is it a fair deal if we can fly over theirs? Sound off below!