U.S. Says It Will Not Rejoin Open Skies Treaty With Russia


WASHINGTON — The Biden administration has informed Russia that the United States will not rejoin a treaty that allowed the nations to conduct surveillance of each other, even though President Biden harshly criticized his predecessor during last year’s campaign for pulling out of the agreement, State Department officials said Thursday.

The nearly 30-year-old accord, known as the Open Skies Treaty, was put in place to ensure that Russia and the United States could monitor military movements by using sophisticated sensors in aircraft that would fly over certain territory of the other’s country.

President Donald J. Trump told Russia last May of his intention to withdraw from the treaty, citing numerous violations by the Russians, who had repeatedly blocked flights over cities where American officials believed that Russians were deploying nuclear weapons capable of reaching Europe. At one point, the Russians angered the United States by running a surveillance flight over Florida, near Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago retreat in Palm Beach.

As a candidate at the time, Mr. Biden slammed the move by Mr. Trump, saying the president had “doubled down on his shortsighted policy of going it alone and abandoning American leadership.”

Democratic lawmakers also criticized Mr. Trump. In a statement at the time, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that Mr. Trump’s decision would “senselessly blind America and our allies while emboldening our enemies” and accused him of sending “a clear signal to the Russians that they can continue their bad behavior unwatched and unchecked.”

But as president, Mr. Biden ordered a new review of the treaty, and officials said they have concluded that the Russians continue to violate the pact and that there is no chance of salvaging it.

American officials said they found little value in the treaty — satellites offered as good or better views of Russian military activity. But U.S. allies have long argued that the true value was in information they could collect from aircraft, and they now fear losing access to views of Russian troop and arms deployments, especially in places like Ukraine.

In the end, the United States overruled those objections and told the allies and partners that Washington would provide what they needed.

But the decision means it is highly likely that neither of the two major treaties with Russia that Mr. Trump exited — Open Skies and the Intermediate Nuclear Forces agreement — would be revived.

That makes Mr. Biden’s upcoming summit meeting on June 16 in Geneva with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia all the more tense. Mr. Biden’s aides have said “strategic stability” will be the highest item on the agenda.

In a statement on Thursday evening, the United States blamed Russia for the Open Skies Treaty’s demise.

“The United States regrets that the Treaty on Open Skies has been undermined by Russia’s violations,” the State Department said in the statement. “In concluding its review of the treaty, the United States therefore does not intend to seek to rejoin it, given Russia’s failure to take any actions to return to compliance.”

The statement also noted that Russia’s actions toward Ukraine, which include amassing troops near the border in a show of force, did not support renewing a treaty aimed at heading off military surprises.

“Russia’s behavior, including its recent actions with respect to Ukraine, is not that of a partner committed to confidence building,” the statement said.

Mr. Biden, who proposed the meeting with Mr. Putin, has argued that there needs to be a more stable relationship between Russia and the United States even as his administration objects to actions by Mr. Putin, including the poisoning of a dissident, the buildup near Ukraine and the interference in the 2016 and 2020 elections.

As part of that search for stability, Mr. Biden’s diplomatic team negotiated with Russia an extension of the New Start treaty, which limits the United States and Russia to 1,550 deployed nuclear missiles each. After the withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty, New Start will be the only major nuclear treaty left between the two nations.

Tensions between Russia and the United States over the Open Skies Treaty have been building for years, with previous presidents accusing the Russians of violating its terms.

The agreement was first proposed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1955 but angrily rejected by Nikita S. Khrushchev, the Soviet premier. Thirty-five years later, President George H.W. Bush negotiated the treaty with Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, aiming to make troop movements and the location of nuclear weapons more obvious to reduce the chances that the two countries would accidentally fall into a war.

In recent years, the United States and Russia have relied less and less on the treaty for surveillance because both nations have sophisticated networks of satellites, which are not part of the accord. The satellites give both nations the ability to monitor troop and weapons movements without needing surveillance flights.

Nonetheless, after Mr. Trump’s decision, the Russians had signaled that they might be willing to stay in the treaty even as American officials said they continued violating it. The review conducted by Mr. Biden’s administration appears to have sealed its fate.

David E. Sanger contributed reporting.


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