Washington, D.C. – On Monday the spokesperson for Russia’s Nuclear Risk Reduction Center, Sergei Ryzhkov confirmed that Russian inspectors will be conducting unarmed aerial surveillance flights over Turkey starting this week. In a statement to Russian media, Mr. Ryzhkov clarified the mission length saying that “A group of Russian inspectors plans to carry out a surveillance flight on board a Russian Antonov An-30B plane over Turkey under the international open skies treaty. The surveillance flight with a maximum range of up to 1,900 kilometers [1,180 miles] will take place in the period between February 27 and March 3 from the Eskisehir Airport.” In answer to Russia’s announcement, the United States along with France also announced that they too would be conducting aerial surveillance in accordance with the Open Skies Treaty into eastern Russia some 800 kilometers from Vladivostok and the Chinese border that also started on Monday as well.
The U.S. Department of Defense provides an abstract of the Treaty on Open Skies which reads: “The Treaty on Open Skies establishes a regime of unarmed aerial observation flights over the territories of its signatories. The Treaty is designed to enhance mutual understanding and confidence by giving all participants, regardless of size, a direct role in gathering information through aerial imaging on military forces and activities of concern to them. Open Skies is one of the most wide-ranging international arms control efforts to date to promote openness and transparency in military forces and activities.” The Open Skies Treaty, which was the brain-child of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, was first pitched in Geneva in 1955. The then Soviet Union wholly rejected President Eisenhower’s proposal of implementing a program of inspectable unarmed aerial surveillance flights into both NATO and Warsaw Pact countries claiming that NATO and the U.S. will use these flights to gather actionable intelligence within the Soviet Union to use towards a ‘first strike’ attack. The treaty was pushed to the back-burner for a few years until former U.S. President George H.W. Bush brought the treaty out of retirement, dusted it off, and finally got it signed in 1992. In 2002 the Open Skies Treaty was finally implemented with up to 34 nations signing the agreement.
The Russian inspectors will be flying an Open Skies Treaty approved Antonov An-30 surveillance aircraft from Turkey’s Eskisehir Airport, just west of Ankara. Turkish government officials stated that Turkish observers will be aboard the aircraft to ensure all approved surveillance procedures and equipment complies with the Open Skies Treaty’s guidelines agreed upon by Russia with input from France and the United States. The 1800 mile radius that these flights have been approved for put Russian intelligence flights well inside the majority of the Mediterranean Sea region along with coastal Libya and Egypt and well inland of Syria and northern Iraq.
The joint U.S./France Open Skies Treaty task force will be flying the treaty approved Boeing OC-135B Open Skies aircraft built specifically for these types of sorties. The U.S./French observation group will be flying out of eastern Russia’s Khabarovsk Novy[Navy] Airport located 800 kilometers north of Vladivostok. Russian inspectors will be on board with the aircraft to oversee that the treaty is adhered to by the U.S. and France. These observation flights are also given the 1800 mile radius for its surveillance as well. Putting this observation group within the Sea of Japan with potential eyes on Russian/Chinese eastern borders and North Korea. All surveillance routes for all involved have been pre-approved by each respective country to ensure that each country doesn’t glean any edge on the other. This will be Russia’s third such observation flight under the Open Skies Treaty agreement since the beginning of 2017.
Feature Image courtesy of Open Skies Consultative Commission