US To Restrict Russian Military Flights Over American Territory

Tuesday, September 26, 2017
By Paul Martin

by Tyler Durden
Sep 26, 2017

As relations between the US and Russia continue to strain, US officials are preparing restrictions for Russian military flights over American territory, permitted by the Treaty on Open Skies, a 2002 agreement involving 34 countries that allows signatories to conduct aerial surveillance of military installations and other sensitive sites, according to the Wall Street Journal. Tensions over the treaty intensified over two days in early August when, as we reported, a Russian jet flew over several US cities including Washington DC and Bedminster NJ, while President Donald Trump was staying at the Trump National Golf Club in the town.

The Open Skies Treaty has been in effect since 2002, and has enabled more than 1,200 flights meant to help verify that signatories are in compliance with arms control agreements, according to the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). Notably, under the freedom permitted by Open Skies, the Russian plane was authorized to enter P-56, the highly secure airspace surrounding the White House.

But now, predictably, US military officials suspect that Russia is trying to hide something from the prying eyes of spy planes flying overhead: Recently, the Kremlin imposed restrictions on flights over Kaliningrad, Russia’s Baltic Sea exclave, which US officials believe is host to a cache of sophisticated weapons, according to the WSJ.

While the treaty allows for a per-flight range of 5,500 kilometers (3,418 miles), Russia has enforced a “sub-limit” of 500 kilometers for flights over Kaliningrad. Since it requires roughly 1,200 kilometers to cover the entirety of Kaliningrad during an Open Skies flight, according to Pentagon officials. This restriction compels treaty members to reallocate two flights that would otherwise be used to observe other portions of Russia.

The restrictions have prompted US officials to question what the Russian military in Kaliningrad may be doing between Open Skies flights, and so they’re trying to incentivize their Russian partners to return to compliance.

“We want to induce Russia to come back into compliance with the treaty,” said a senior State Department official, adding measures the U.S. takes that are reversible could prod Moscow.

Among options that U.S. officials have considered are limitations of Russian flights over Alaska and Hawaii, according to officials with knowledge of the matter. The treaty’s US delegation is scheduled to announce reciprocal countermeasures Tuesday during a meeting of the Open Skies consultative commission in Vienna, according to officials at the State Department and Pentagon. Russian officials responded by claiming that several parties to Open Skies, including Canada, Georgia, Turkey and the US, have placed some limits on what can be accessed by the spy planes of signatories.

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