Tbilisi’s decision to pull out from the Open Skies Treaty vis-à-vis Moscow sets “a dangerous precedent”, which may even lead to “collapse” of the entire treaty, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said in a statement on April 16.
The Open Skies Treaty, which went into force in 2002, allows its 34 participating states to gather information about each other's military forces through unarmed observation flights.
Georgia announced in early April that it was ceasing its obligations under the treaty only vis-à-vis Russia.
About two years before that announcement, Russia imposed restrictions on flight path for aerial observation over its territory, in particular over the areas adjacent to Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Arguing that Abkhazia and South Ossetia are “independent states”, Russia justified its decision on imposing restrictions on observation flight routes by one of the clauses of the treaty, according to which "the flight path of an observation aircraft shall not be closer than... ten kilometres from the border with an adjacent State that is not a State Party" to the treaty.
Georgia cited Russia’s decision to impose restriction on observation flight path as the reason behind its decision to pull out from the treaty vis-à-vis Russia.
“The Treaty does not envisage possibility of an arbitrary, discriminatory restriction of right of any participating state. The Georgian side’s action, however leads to violation of the Russian Federation’s rights and creates a dangerous precedent, which, combined with uneasy situation existing recently in the Open Skies Consultative Commission [the implementing body of the treaty, consisting of representatives from each of the 34 states parties to the treaty], may lead to the collapse of the Open Skies Treaty,” the Russian MFA said in the statement.
It said that Georgia’s decision represented “a typical example of unfair politicization of international cooperation issues.” It also said that Tbilisi was “well aware” that after recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia Moscow would have applied the Treaty’s provision, which bans observation flights within 10km from the border of a non-participant state.
“Despite of that over the past two years Tbilisi had been persistently pushing for an opportunity to [set] observation flight paths over Russia in areas adjacent to Abkhaz and South Ossetian borders. The goal of these intentions was to mark Georgia’s claims over these republics, which eventually broke away from [Georgia] as a result of criminal military adventure of M. Saakashvili in August, 2008,” the Russian MFA said.
"In practical terms, taking into account equipment used for observation, this restriction [imposed by Russia] changes nothing. Contrary to unsubstantiated claims by the Georgian MFA, this [restriction] does not hinder even a bit access of monitors from participating states, including from Georgia, to the Russian territory."
“Tbilisi’s decision clearly demonstrates its disregard towards the international commitments in the spheres of arms control and strengthening of confidence and security. Against the background of continued rearmament of Georgia it is impossible not to ask a question about real reasons that prompted the [Georgian] authorities’ decision to significantly reduce transparency in the military sphere. Will not this step become a prelude to a new military adventure?” the Russian MFA said.
It also said that it was carrying out “a thorough analysis of the existing situation and will inform all the participating states of the Treaty about its results.”