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Russia censures US for planning to withdraw from Open Skies Treaty

Russia says a planned move by the United States to withdraw from a major international treaty on unarmed surveillance flights would undermine global security.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Friday that Washington had provided no concrete evidence proving its claims that Moscow had violated the terms of the Open Skies Treaty, a pact which gives its 35 member states the right to unarmed overflights.

However, Ryabkov regretted the planned US withdrawal from the treaty, saying it would undermine international security.

Other members to the 35-nation pact also regretted a Thursday announcement by the US government on the issue, which showed the administration of President Donald Trump is intent on withdrawing over alleged Russian violations.

A joint statement by France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Finland, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Sweden issued on Friday described the decision as regrettable, saying, however, that they would remain committed to the key treaty.

The statement reiterated that the treaty remained “functional and useful” despite the withdrawal plan, which is expected to go into effect within the next six months.

NATO, an alliance which includes many European countries, said it would discuss the future of the Open Skies Treaty after the United States, the dominant power in the alliance, announced it is planning to withdraw.

“Allies continue to consult closely on the future of the treaty and the North Atlantic Council will meet today to discuss the issue,” said a NATO official while raising concerns about Russia’s selective way of implementing the treaty.

The US announcement comes against the backdrop of similar moves by the Trump administration to pull out of major international agreements since he came to office in early 2017.

Many fear Trump’s move on the Open Skies would lead to a halt to the 2010 New START accord, a deal which imposes limits on the number of deployments by the US and Russia for strategic nuclear arms.