Open sky over Russia and the NATO countries: how to get rid of fears
The "Open Skies" Treaty has celebrated its 20th anniversary. The military of Russia, the NATO countries, and other countries continue to carry out reconnaissance flights over the territories of the countries-participants. In spite of Georgia's withdrawal from the Treaty, it still remains one of the most effective means of maintaining peace.
From April 9 to 14, the US reconnaissance plane OC-135B – a version of the well-known "spy plane" RC-135 specially adapted for optical reconnaissance, converted from a transport version of the liner Boeing B -707, will make several flights over the territory of Russia. The plane will take off from the airfield Kubinka near Moscow, and the maximum length of its route, agreed with the Russian side, will be 5,500 km.
Almost at the same time, until April 16, Russian inspectors on board the reconnaissance plane Tu-154M Lk-1 will make several flights over the territory of the United States. The Travis airbase in California will become a temporary home for the Russian aircraft.
The next visit to the USA of the Russian aircraft "Open Skies" is planned for the summer of 2012, and apparently, this series of flights will be the debut of a new plane Tu-214ОN, the first out of two aircrafts of this type ordered by the Russian Ministry of Defense.
In the course of these operations American inspectors will be on board of Russian planes supervising the use of the equipment and surveillance systems in accordance with the existing agreements. Similarly, Russian specialists control the flights of American and other foreign planes over the territory of Russia in the framework of the "Open Skies" Treaty.
This procedure has been in effect for 20 years now - the Treaty was signed in March 1992. However, Russia joined the "Open skies" only in 2001. The idea of an official exchange of reconnaissance aircrafts’ visits between the USSR and the USA first occurred to the US President Dwight Eisenhower in 1955. According to one of the best generals of the Second World War, such an exchange would eliminate the likelihood of sudden aggression from either side.
At that time, this proposal did not meet with understanding and fell into oblivion. And the American reconnaissance aircrafts continued to fly over the territory of the USSR without any invitations until 1960, when the flight of the aircraft U-2 piloted by Francis Gary Powers was interrupted by the latest anti-aircraft missile complex C-75 in the sky over Sverdlovsk.
In such circumstances it would have been strange to hope for any military agreements, and it was almost thirty years later that the talks about "Open Skies" began again. On March 24, 1992 27 member states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) signed the "Open Skies” Treaty. Later, the number of countries that have signed and ratified the Treaty grew up to 35, and only recently after the withdrawal of Georgia that number decreased to 34.
Georgia accused Russia in the abuse of the Treaty. The thing is that the Treaty provides for a ban on reconnaissance flights in the immediate vicinity (up to 10 km) to the borders of the countries, which do not participate in the "Open Skies". Basing on these regulations, Russia banned over its territory a more than 10 km approach to the air borders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
It’s common knowledge that Georgia does not recognize these States. So it walked out of the Treaty and virtually demanded from Russia to disavow the recognition of independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. First of all, the withdrawal from the Treaty means the termination of the reconnaissance flights of Russian and other countries’ aircrafts over Georgia and of Georgian aircrafts over Russia in the framework of the "Open Skies".
At the meanwhile, Georgia loses nothing by it. There is no doubt that the friendly United States, which possesses the right to commit such flights (not to mention other capabilities of this country) will immediately share with Tbilisi any information about more-or-less serious movements of Russian forces.
At the same time the acquisitions are rather important. The termination of Russian flights over Georgia means a shutting of one of the most important and full channels of information about the state of the Georgian armed forces.
The essence of the "Open Skies" Treaty (though it is not expressed in the open) is that regular flights over the territories of one or another country make it possible to trace the development trends and to evaluate the degree of readiness of the troops. In these circumstances no movements can remain unnoticed, that permits to prevent a possible aggression.
After getting rid of the regular "photo control" Georgia can afford itself a lot more freedom in managing its armed forces. No one knows whether a possible second attempt of a "military solution” of the Abkhazia and South Ossetia problem is in the immediate plans of Tbilisi. However, there are fewer restrictions to the implementation of such a plan.