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August 27, 2018
Russia, Belarus Move Toward Open Skies Treaty Ratification

Wade Boese

As expected, Russia’s upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, gave its approval of the Open Skies Treaty on May 16, a little less than a month after the Russian Duma, the more powerful, lower house, approved the accord on April 18. (See ACT, May 2001.) Russian President Vladimir Putin subsequently signed the legislation, ratifying the accord on May 28.

In Belarus, which had adopted the position that it would act on the treaty once Russia did, the lower house of parliament overwhelmingly approved the treaty 86-2 on May 3, and the upper house followed suit on May 17.

Kyrgyzstan is the only other country of the 27 signatories that has not ratified the treaty. However, its ratification is not needed for the treaty to enter into force, which will happen 60 days after both Moscow and Minsk have deposited their instruments of ratification.

Negotiated by NATO and the former members of the Warsaw Pact and then signed in March 1992, the Open Skies Treaty permits states-parties to fly unarmed reconnaissance missions over each other’s entire territories. The sensors aboard the aircraft, including cameras, will enable the observing party to distinguish between tanks and trucks.

Each state-party is obliged to receive only a certain number of flights per year over its territory, referred to as its passive quota, and is restricted to the number of flights it may conduct over other states-parties, which is a country’s active quota. All countries with a passive quota of eight or more must ratify the treaty for it to enter into force, which is why Russia and Belarus—the two share a quota of 42—must complete ratification before the accord becomes legally binding.

By the terms of the treaty, the first allocation of overflights, in which states-parties need only receive up to 75 percent of their passive quota for overflights, is good from the date of entry into force until the end of the following year. Therefore, if Moscow and Minsk quickly deposited their instruments of ratification within the next few months, the treaty would enter into force this year and states-parties would have only through the end of 2002 to get their observation aircraft certified, which could take several months, and conduct the first round of overflights. If the two capitals deposit their instruments of ratification later this year so that entry into force falls during early 2002, states-parties will have all of 2002 and 2003 to get the treaty running, allowing themselves a more leisurely schedule for getting aircraft certified and conducting the first round of overflights.