Moscow is not sure that Washington intends to withdraw from the Treaty on Open Skies, but it is ready to consider various options for responding to this possible US move, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Izvestia newspaper on the sidelines of the IV Moscow Non-Proliferation Conference on Monday.
At the same time, he underscored that Moscow would not withdraw from the agreement if the American side did so.
“We consider the agreement an important element, which, especially in the current situation, stabilises many processes. There are different options, but in any case we can’t just respond in kind [to the US’ possible withdrawal from the treaty],” Ryabkov pointed out, expressing hope that Washington will remain a treaty member.
He was echoed by the Russian Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov who pointed to the fact that there were no official announcements on the matter from Washington.
Antonov warned that the US’ pullout of the treaty would deal a blow to international security.
“We now have very few treaties [that are still in force],” which is why easily getting rid of the Treaty on Open Skies would be an irrelevant step, says Antonov.
The statement came after Vladimir Yermakov, the director of the Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control at the Russian Foreign Ministry, said that Moscow had already prepared a response to the possible US withdrawal from the agreement.
“Any decision of the United States on its withdrawal from any binding agreement rides roughshod over world security. Unfortunately, our US colleagues have been deliberately doing it since the late 90s […] That is why we would not say that the current statement on the possible [US] withdrawal from the Treaty on Open Skies was a big surprise for us," Yermakov pointed out.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, for his part, said that Washington’s possible pullout from the treaty would be a “sad” development."
US Senator Jeff Merkley, in turn, warned in a letter, published late last month and signed by another 10 Democratic senators, that a withdrawal from the treaty would strip the US of diplomatic leverage over Russia.
In late October, the Wall Street Journal cited two unnamed US government sources as saying that President Donald Trump signed a document "signalling his intent" to withdraw the United States from the treaty.
The 1992 Open Skies Treaty allows signatories to carry out aerial surveillance through scheduled observation flights over each participating state. More than 30 countries are participating in the programme, which was created to boost the transparency of military activities.