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Russia And America: Step Up To The Skies

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Less than ten days before his first summit with his American counterpart Joe Biden in Geneva, Switzerland on June 16, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved, on Monday, Russia’s withdrawal from the “Open Skies” treaty. The Russian move lowers the already low expectations for a serious breakthrough in the relations of the two countries at the upcoming summit, with Russian and American officials confirming that their countries’ relations have fallen to the lowest level in nearly three decades. While noting that “it is natural for the Russian withdrawal from the treaty to negatively affect the summit of Presidents Putin and Biden,” a source close to the Russian Foreign Ministry stressed that “Washington bears the responsibility after its first withdrawal from the treaty, due to the lack of a responsible spirit and insistence on withdrawal.”.

With the withdrawal of Russia and the United States from the “Open Skies” treaty, “START III” became the only major agreement in force between them in the field of security and strategic balance. Work on the preparation of the “Open Skies” treaty began in the late eighties of the last century, with the improvement of relations between the Soviet Union and the West, as part of efforts to reduce tension between them. Although it was signed in the Finnish capital Helsinki in 1992, the agreement did not enter into force until 2002, after a long process of ratifications in the parliaments of the 27 countries that launched the agreement (the number is now 34). This agreement aims to enhance mutual understanding and trust, so that the signatory states can collect information related to the armed forces of other states of concern.

The summit will open the way for the work of joint diplomatic and military committees

During the period of validity of the agreement, more than 1,500 reconnaissance flights were carried out according to the annual quotas for all 34 countries, by aircraft of pre-agreed types, in the presence of representatives of the controlled country on board. The Trump administration’s withdrawal from the agreement last year angered Russia, but it delayed its response in the hope of a change in the American position. After Biden won the presidential elections that took place on November 3, and his decision to extend the “START 3” agreement last February, without conditions for five years, a positive atmosphere prevailed in Moscow, hoping that the Biden administration would reverse the decision to withdraw. of the “Open Skies” treaty. Although the Russian Foreign Ministry announced last January that the procedures for withdrawing from the treaty had begun, it sought to give the US side the opportunity to return to it. With hopes fading, the Duma (the Russian parliament) agreed on May 19 to withdraw, but the Russian Foreign Ministry kept the door open to retreat, “

The US position prompted Moscow to speed up the process of withdrawing from the treaty, which was ratified by the Federation Council (Senate) on June 2. The steps of the two countries and the statements of their officials in recent months revealed the great difficulties encountered in reaching major breakthroughs at the expected summit between Putin and Biden, which would stop the collapse of relations and find solutions on issues of international security, strategic balance, ending the “diplomatic war”, and reaching consensus. on some regional files.

In a speech at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum last Friday, Putin said that “we must find a way to organize these relations (with Washington), which are today at their lowest levels.” And he stressed that “at least the basic interests in the field of security, strategic stability, and the reduction of dangerous weapons” should be given priority during his next meeting with Biden. In turn, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov lowered expectations for the summit, and said in a press conference earlier this month, “We do not bear illusions and do not try to form the impression that breakthroughs will be achieved or historic decisions will be issued that determine the fate.”

And he considered that “holding talks between the two most prominent nuclear powers, at the level of the two presidents, is important in itself, and it is something that must be supported in all ways.” On the extent of differences and manifestations of conflict in bilateral relations, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov considered, last Friday, that “there is no justification to expect any progress towards reaching an understanding, but sometimes it is also useful to agree on a disagreement.” Noting that “the start of dialogue at the highest level, despite the unfortunate state of bilateral relations, is a very positive step,” Peskov stressed that the only condition for raising these relations to another level is “mutual respect and consideration of interests,” adding that “attempts to dictate or direct are governed.” It will fail, and it will disrupt the fragile dynamic towards establishing a dialogue between Russia and the United States.”

The Putin-Biden summit is being held after an unprecedented deterioration in bilateral relations in recent months, in which the two countries exchanged sanctions and exchanged expulsion of diplomats. And the Russian ambassador, Anatoly Antonov, left Washington since March 20, after Biden’s unprecedented statements, in which he agreed to describe Putin as a “murderer.” Last April, US Ambassador John Sullivan left Moscow. According to Russian statements, the summit is scheduled to discuss three basic issues, namely strategic balance and armaments, bilateral relations, and various regional files. The two leaders are also expected to discuss cyber security issues. Well-informed circles in Moscow did not rule out that the summit would contribute to the start of a more serious dialogue to discuss issues of strategic balance and cyber-attacks, in addition to a solution to the issue of the return of the ambassadors of the two countries to their workplaces, and the freezing of the “diplomatic war.”

START 3 remains the only treaty that binds the two countries

The sources also minimized “the possibility of conducting a detailed study of all regional issues, including the Syrian file, which will not be essential due to the lack of time and the absence of a clear Russian strategy to deal with the Syrian crisis.” However, she suggested that “the two leaders will agree to continue efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear file through negotiations, and support reaching a negotiated solution.” The Russian sources ruled out reaching a bilateral statement on the results of the summit, but unanimously agreed that the summit “will open the way for the work of diplomatic and military committees to find solutions to outstanding issues.”

A Russian source expressed Moscow’s hope that “the United States will not interfere in the upcoming parliamentary elections (scheduled for next September) by supporting the opposition or encouraging it to go out to the streets,” warning that “the worst message that the US administration can send is to open files such as Human rights, personal and political freedoms, the subject of (opposition Alexei) Navalny, and giving lectures on democracy to the Russian side, which may cause tension in the atmosphere and undermine the possibility of cooperation. It is clear that Russia fears that Biden will take advantage of the summit in order to give “moral lectures” to Russia on the issue of freedoms, but the biggest fear is from a more assertive American position in a number of files related to Russia’s relations with the West, especially since the summit will be held after Biden’s coronation and his efforts to restore relations on both sides of the Atlantic, after Trump spoiled it.

Biden will participate in three summits gathering the United States with its partners, within the Group of Seven in the south of Britain, with the European Union and with NATO in Brussels. On the other hand, Moscow has sought to increase its cooperation with China in the past two years, and has become more confident in the strength of its influence on a number of sensitive regional files, such as the issue of Afghanistan, with its strong relations with the “Taliban” movement and neighboring countries, which forces Washington to deal with it and provide some Waivers in other files.

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