Russia intends to request US permission to conduct observation flights over the United States. They hope to do this with the use of aircraft which will be equipped with powerful digital cameras. American intelligence and military sources have warned that such flights will help Moscow gather intelligence about the United States.
Russia and the US have both signed the Treaty on Open Skies, which allows making observation flights with aircraft with no weapons over the territories of all 34 countries participating in the agreement. The Treaty was designed to facilitate the monitoring of compliance with many agreements, including those relating to arms control.
However, high-ranking intelligence officials and the military are concerned that Russia will make use of the benefits of modern technology to violate the essence of the Treaty.
Russia will send a formal request to the Advisory Commission on Open Skies, which is located in Vienna, to request the allowance of these observation flights. This was reported by a high-ranking Member of the Congress, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
If such a request is received, the Obama Administration would have to decide whether to allow Russia to use powerful equipment on their aircraft for the aerial surveillance.
This request will be attempted during one of the tensest periods in relations between the US and Russia since the Cold War. This is due to Washington’s disagreement over Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Syria.
"The Treaty has become an important component of the work of Russian intelligence gathering relating to the US," this was noted in a letter from the Head of the Strategic Command of the United States, Admiral Cecil Heini, to the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Mike Rogers.
"In the framework of the Treaty, Russia will be able to not only conduct overflights of military facilities, but also to collect data about the objects of the Ministry of Defense, the National Security or the Critical National Infrastructure. Vulnerabilities that can be identified using this data and the costs of mitigation are difficult to describe,” Heini continued in his letter.
On Sunday, the State Department Spokesman said that the parties in the Treaty did not yet receive the notice regarding Russia’s request. The official added that the Russian aircraft certification with the "digital electro-optical sensor" will not happen before summer as the contract requires the relevant party to file a notice 120 days prior to the date that the certification is required.