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Russia Withdraws from “Open Skies,” Points Fingers at Georgia, U.S.

Following a June 7 order by Russian President Vladimir Putin authorizing a withdrawal from the “Open Skies” accord, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova pointed accusatory fingers at the U.S. and Georgia, among others, over alleged treaty violations and “non-constructive positions.”

Russia pulled out of the accord after Biden Administration informed Moscow in May it would not rejoin the deal. The U.S. formally withdrew from the treaty in November 2020, following the May 2020 withdrawal decision by President Donald Trump. The U.S. then cited Moscow’s “flagrant and continuous violation” of the deal including by not allowing “observation flights within a 10-kilometer corridor” along its border with occupied Georgian regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali/South Ossetia.

Spokesperson Zakharova retorted yesterday by slamming Georgia instead, for “violating” the treaty by refusing to accept Russian missions over its territory, a 2012 move that was Tbilisi’s response to Moscow barring the observation flights over the occupied regions in the first place.

Zakharova claimed Tbilisi and its partners took a “non-constructive position” and “closed the window of opportunity” on a subsequent offer by Moscow to allow recon flights over the occupied regions provided that Tbilisi greenlighted Russian flights over its territory in return, – a proposal dubbed by the Georgian Foreign Ministry as “cynical” in May 2020.

Tbilisi and Washington have both accused Russia of attempting to exploit the “Open Skies” accord by using it as means to “legitimize” the unrecognized Kremlin-backed regimes of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia by portraying them as independent states, not subject to the treaty.

Signed in 1992, the Treaty on Open Skies is an international agreement designed to avert conflict and promote trust, allowing the signatory nations to carry out reconnaissance flights over the territories of each other. Accumulating 35 signatures over the years, including by Georgia, the agreement now remains with 33 participants as both the U.S. and Russia have withdrawn. Georgia, despite having hailed the U.S. initiative to pull out, remains a signatory as of yet.

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