Last month, a Russian spy plane conducting a reconnaissance flight drew the attention of Washington D.C. residents as it flew as low as 3,700 feet while gathering intelligence on locations like Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, where Air Force One is maintained, the White House, and Camp David. Americans were clearly concerned about the low flying presence of the Russian Tu-154, which carried no armaments, but was clearly loitering in areas most aircraft are not authorized to enter.
To the surprise of many Americans, this seemingly egregious violation of American air space was actually authorized and tracked, perhaps begrudgingly, by officials from the U.S. Department of Defense, who were honoring a unilateral agreement established between 34 signatory nations, called the Open Skies Treaty. This treaty, first established on March 24th, 1992, permits each participating nation the right to conduct aerial observations of military assets possessed by other signing members. In effect, we tolerate these flights in exchange for the right to conduct our own… the thing is, Russia has not been honoring their part of the deal, particularly in the Russian satellite region of Kaliningrad, which, along with Belarus, creates a choke point for NATO allies in the Baltics.
U.S. officials have repeatedly addressed this issue with their Russian counterparts and, this week, news of those complaints began to hit the press, prompting a lengthy response from Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova on Thursday.
“First, Russia has imposed restrictions, allegedly unlawfully, on observation flights over the Kaliningrad Region. According to the United States, this precludes effective observation of Russia’s territory during the approved number of flights.” Zahharova said to a gathering of journalists. “Moreover, NATO countries have accused Russia of a desire to ‘conceal’ military facilities near Kaliningrad from Open Skies cameras.”