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Russia ‘ready to retaliate’ if US quits Open Skies Treaty

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A file Photo of a Russian Air Force Tupolev Tu-154

Russia has warned of retaliatory measures in case the United States withdraws from the Open Skies Treaty, a 17-year-old agreement that allows both countries to conduct surveillance flights over each other’s territory.

Citing a senior Russian Foreign Ministry official, the state-run RIA news agency said late on Wednesday that Washington’s potential exit from the Open Skies Treaty would deal a blow to global security, but Moscow had drawn up a response in case it happened.

“Of course, we’ve got everything ready. You’ll find out,” Vladimir Ermakov, head of the ministry’s arms control and non-proliferation department, was quoted as saying by RIA.

The Treaty on Open Skies was struck on January 1, 2002 between the US, Russia, and more than 30 other countries. It was designed to enhance mutual understanding and confidence by giving all participants a direct role in gathering information about the military forces and activities of concern to them.

Washington and Moscow have used the international pact to keep an eye on each other’s activities, but senior US Democratic lawmakers said last month they believed President Donald Trump might pull the country out of it.

Tensions between the world’s two nuclear powers escalated following Washington’s move last year to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty over claims that Moscow had violated the Cold War-era arms control treaty by developing a missile known as the 9M729.

Russia denied the accusation and publicized the missile’s specifications to prove that it was allowed under the INF, which had been signed toward the end of the Cold War, in 1987, by the then-US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Under the treaty, both sides had been banned from creating ground-launched nuclear missiles with ranges from 500 to 5,500 kilometers. The pact had also banned the sides from deploying short and intermediate-range land-based missiles in Europe.

Moscow suspended its participation in the INF this February.

New START, the last remaining major nuclear arms control treaty between the two countries is due to expire in February 2021, and Moscow has warned the sides are already short of time to negotiate a full-fledged replacement.

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