US disallows Russia to use new Tu-214 for Open Skies observation flights

The US government has decided not to allow Russia’s new Tu-214ON reconnaissance aircraft to make observation flights in accordance with the Treaty on Open Skies. This was reported by Sergey Ryzhkov, head of Russia’s National Nuclear Risk Reduction Center, in an interview with Krasnaya Zvezda, the official newspaper of Russia’s Defense Ministry.

According to Ryzhkov, at the Kubinka airfield in the Moscow province, the new aircraft was subjected to international examination of the course of ten days. The examination involved 72 experts from the 23 countries that are party to the treaty. The plane and its equipment were presented on the ground, and meetings were held with the builders of the aircraft and the developers of its observation equipment.

On September 6 and 7, test flights were made at the Taganrog airfield. Ryzhkov emphasized that the acquired digital images convinced the members of 22 delegations that the four configuration altitudes of the OSDCAM4060 digital camera meet the treaty’s ground resolution capabilities requirements.

“However, the leader of the American delegation, in violation of the requirements of the Open Skies Treaty, and without explaining or providing any reasons, refused to sign the conclusive document,” Ryzhkov noted. The American expert who made this decision supposedly referred to “direct instructions from Washington”.

Ryzhkov believes that by doing so, the US has prioritized “political issues”. He is also of the opinion that the US government “cannot make peace with the fact that Russia, by building the modern Tu-214ON surveillance aircraft equipped with Russian-produced digital equipment, has gotten 5-7 years ahead of the US”. “We demand an explanation of the situation,” Ryzhkov concluded.

In the middle of August, US President Donald Trump signed the defense budget for 2019, which envisages the freezing of all funds allocated to the Open Skies program. The document states that the restrictions may be lifted if Congress is given evidence that Russia is complying with its part of the treaty. Among other things, the US government demands that Russia stop using infrared sensors, radar aperture synthesizing during flights over the EU and US, and using observation flights for the purpose of reconnaissance. Washington also deems it necessary for Moscow to justify its military’s need to fly over any specific territory.

Later, TASS reported, citing the US officials, that the US does not intend to pull out of the treaty.

The Treaty on Open Skies was signed by representatives of 23 OSCE member countries in 1992 in Helsinki. According to the treaty, signatory states may fly over other signatories’ territories in order to ensure that they are not preparing for war or violating international agreements.

  USA, Russia, Tu-214, Open Skies Treaty, Trump