July 18, 2016

Senate bill calls for restrictions on Russian Open Skies Treaty overflights of the US

On July 14th 2016 a Simple Resolution was passed in the Senate. The sponsor of this bill was Tom Cotton, Junior Senator from Arkansas (R). Being a Canadian, the term Simple Resolution was foreign to me, but it doesn't seem to be a law, but more of a finger-wagging statement, which says:
S.Res. 544: A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate regarding compliance enforcement of Russian violations of the Open Skies Treaty.
"... it is the sense of the Senate that— (1) restrictions upon the ability of Open Skies Treaty aircraft to overfly all portions of the territory of a State Party impede openness and transparency of military forces and activities and undermine mutual understanding and confidence, especially when coupled with an ongoing refusal to address compliance concerns raised by other States Party subject to such restrictions; (2) it is essential to the accomplishment of the purpose of the Open Skies Treaty that Open Skies Treaty aircraft be able to observe the entire territory of a State Party in a timely and reciprocal manner as provided for under the Open Skies Treaty; (3) the Russian Federation’s restrictions upon the ability of Open Skies Treaty aircraft to overfly all portions of the territory of the Russian Federation constitute violations of the Open Skies Treaty; and (4) for so long as the Russian Federation remains in noncompliance with the Open Skies Treaty, the United States should take such measures as are necessary to bring about the Russian Federation’s return to full compliance with its treaty obligations, including, as appropriate, through the imposition of restrictions upon Russian overflights of the United States." (ref here and here)
This Bill is a politically motivated punitive measure spurned on by lobbyists for the defence industry, under-informed politicians looking to score points riding the Red Scare wave, political appointees, and the head of the DIA, who I've written about before (cited below). For a host of reasons, like desperate caged animals, the these people have been rabbidly spreading the narrative of a renewed Red Scare of Russia, and trying to convince the American people that Russians are spying over the US with these "treaty overflights". Further, they state these overflights have now become "vital tools" for Russia's intelligence collection, even though the plane's cameras produce 30cm resolution photos, which are similar in resolution to commercial satellite photos.

Opponents of the Open Skies Treaty need Americans to be afraid of the Russians, as they were of the Soviet Union. It seems the only way the American military can get more funding is by having a nefarious super-power to duel with. Repeated statements about Russian "RESTRICTIONS" on overflights of Russia have been parroted by the media, with no fact-checking or elaboration regarding what "restrictions" they are talking about. The impression given is that Russia is *blocking* overflights of large pieces of Russia, hiding invasion forces, and obstructing arms inspections of the country at every turn.

This is somewhere between fantasy, wishful thinking, and an extreme stretch of the facts. Almost none of it is true. Almost. The restrictions put in place by the Russians are mostly in contravention of the agreement as it is written; TRUE. However, the restrictions do not impede the inspection of the entire territory of the Russian Federation, very small portions of Russia have had any restriction at all, and nothing is "hidden" by any of the restrictions.  I've already covered the misinformation these factions are trying to spread here, here and here.

Russia's "Restrictions" imposed on other states' overflights are as follows:

  • Limited distance allowed for flights over Kaliningrad (not unreasonable)
  • Treaty-defined 10km restriction from border with independent states (Breakaway republics of Georgia, dovetails into unrelated border dispute)
  • Restricted airspace over some of Moscow forcing a higher overflight (not outrageous)
  • Restricted airspace over Chechnya forcing a higher overflight (also not surprising)
  • Declaring "Force majeure" on an unknown (2? 3?) overflights since 2011 due to VIP on the ground (certainly poor form)
I really don't see any of these are so bad that you'd want to start contravening an Arms Verification treaty to prove a point.  If the USA is going to arbitrarily impose restrictions on Russian overflights without getting the approval of the OSCC it will be as much in the wrong as Russia is.  If these are such egregious affronts to the treaty, why is no other country crying foul?  There are 32 other Nations, other than the United States and Russia, who have not voiced objections to these issues with the same fervour as the United States.  Why haven't the Americans convened a meeting regarding these issues and come up with a resolution put forth by the rest of the signatory parties to the Treaty?  Why is it the United States is doing these punitive measures alone and without any other country's support?  What measures are they even considering?  Will they be proportional to what Russia is imposing?  Tit-for-tat?

Not a misquote, they are his own written words from his own column here
Let me introduce you to Junior Senator from Arkansas USA Tom Cotton, a Republican; why?  Because I believe he routinely recklessly endangers the world, and is a horrible misogynist, despite graduating from Harvard and being a decorated former Army Captain, and veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

He was also called a "mutinous" by a General over the letter he (and 46 others) sent to Iran which was against the US national interest and the narrative Obama was broadcasting during the nuclear deal negotiations.  You could read this.  He has also been routinely called out for taking money from hard-line Israeli lobbyists and significant donations from defence contractors.  This man is a one man war machine.

War is good for business.

If this man is advocating reprisals against Russia for minor infractions of the Open Skies Treaty, you should be wondering how this benefits the people who fund him; specifically the extremely arms industry and their deep pockets.

Peace isn't good for business.

Open Skies Treaty overflight OS-11-012; Russia over Canada in 2011

 Russian Open Skies Tu-154M-Lk-1
 Ottawa International Airport on 2013-10-27
Photo Credit: Colin Elliott
Indeed this is becoming repetitive, but here we have the 2011 Flight Plan for the Russian Open Skies treaty overflight of Canada.  Clearly this time the focus was on hitting all of the West Coast locations with any military interest.  The data I was provided from DND looked like it was printed, scanned, printed, scanned again, and altered in various programs along the way; so while legible to the human eye, it is causing problems with my OCR software.  If any of the data points aren't exactly where they should be, I apologize, but that's as good as it gets!

July 14, 2016

Open Skies Treaty overflight OS-12-018; Russia over Canada in 2012

Russian Open Skies Tu-154M-Lk-1
Ottawa International Airport on 2013-10-27
Photo Credit: Colin Elliott
I'm working backwards through the flight plans and mission reports of Russian overflights of Canada under the Open Skies Treaty, and I am noticing some similarities and trends.  Since they only have ~5000-6000km according to the treaty to use in one mission, they can't visit every since military facility; but they make a really good effort.  The Russians have a few favourite locations they like to visit as often as possible; CFAD Dundurn and CFB Suffield are two of those locations.  Former Pinetree Line Long Range Radar Stations are favourites; after all, why would we decommission them and not build something in the same spot?  Any and all military bases are obvious targets of areal photography as well; Cold Lake, Kingston, Borden (w/ CFAD Angus), etc...

Open Skies Treaty overflight OS-13-020; Russia over Canada in 2013

Russian Open Skies Tu-154M-Lk-1
Ottawa International Airport on 2013-10-27
Photo Credit: Colin Elliott
As a follow-on to my previous post and the one before that on Open Skies Treaty overflights of Canada, here are the 2013 coordinates where cameras were engaged and disengaged, and flight paths.  This mission was performed between 2013-06-15 and 2013-06-20.

Click the square bracketed icon at the top right of the map to blow it up full-screen so you can read it better.

July 13, 2016

Open Skies Treaty overflight OS-14-032; Russia over Canada in 2014

Russian Open Skies Tu-154M-Lk-1
Ottawa International Airport on 2013-10-27
Photo Credit: Colin Elliott

As I mentioned previously, I requested, via Access to Information, from DND, all the flight plans performed under the Open Skies Treaty which were flown over Canada by the Russians until 2014 - and somehow got them!  So now I'm looking to find out what the Russians thought would be so important hat they would spend ~$150,000 to fly over here, shack up in some of our finest rural hotels, and buzz around Canada taking pictures of our great country.  Of course everyone would love to spend a week flying over Canada and getting away from it all, but their choice of things to photograph is sometimes a little odd.  The Diefenbunker?  Really?

I'm looking for you to identify some of the less obvious legs of the trip.  along the flight plan you'll see "START" and "STOP"; this is where the photos started to be taken, and stopped being taken.  If they weren't shooting photos at the time, they were travelling to the next leg where more photos would be taken; pretty simple.  It is plain to see they took photos of former Pinetree Line Radar sites (such as Alsask) and the former CFB Carp; but some of the other areas are a mystery to me.

Do you see anything interesting?

(Click the Maximize square at the top right corner of the map to go full screen)

An important USAF first, in the far North of Russia, with help from the RCAF

Tiksi Airfield; I've mentioned it before (here) in relation to former Soviet Long Range Aviation "bounce" bases, where Soviet bombers would refuel on their way over the North pole, on their mission to turn the United States to a nuclear wasteland.

Location of Tiksi

Currently The Open Skies Treaty defines several airfields across signatory countries (such as Russia) where foreign observation planes are allowed to land and operate from, while performing Open Skies Treaty overflights.  One of those airfields is Tiksi, but, never before in the 20+ year history of the Open Skies Treaty have the Americans landed at the airfield on an observation flight.  Why haven't there been any American visits to this arctic location?  The runway is in rough shape, and while it has been reported in the Russian media that the airstrip will be fixed, and perhaps is in the middle of being fixed, it isn't fully repaired yet.  The American Open Skies treaty-approved plane is an Boeing OC-135B; being a 4 engine Jet, with a 5500km range, it requires a full ~8000ft of runway to land and take off.  Due to the condition of that runway, from ice heaves and deterioration of the surface, the OC-135B has been unable to fulfil its missions in Russia's far-North.

Tiksi Airfield

Enter the Royal Canadian Air Force

Canada is also signatory to the treaty, and flies a modified CC-130J Hercules, which is known to be able to land on rough terrain.  Outfitted with "SAMSON" (the RCAF shared Open Skies camera pod) containing a wet film framing camera, and 4 additional sensors, the RCAF plane conducted overflights of the region, with American representatives onboard, from July 4th to 9th 2016.  While the USAF is usually seen as technologically superior to the RCAF, this is one of those cases where the RCAF's choice of Open Skies Treaty-certified plane proved more useful than the more elegant OC-135B.  I think this is a big "win" for the RCAF, and should get more attention than it has.

I'd originally believed this was the first ever flight to Tikisi under the Open Skies Treaty, but previously there has been an Italian/Canadian joint flight, also using a Hercules.

Canadian crew members performing a flight under the Open Skies Treaty over Russia,
pose next to their C-130H aircraft (29 May 2003)
Credit: OSCE/Unknown Photographer
I presume these flights were to check up on the military bases being built or refurbished in Russia's far North, but I have no mission plan or flight plan to base that speculation on, yet.  Specifically I think the Kotelny Island Base(s) and Temp Airfield were on the target list for the observation flight.

July 09, 2016

In February 2016 Turkey grievously violated the Open Skies Treaty, and nobody cared.

Russian Antonov An-30 Open Skies Plane
© Flickr/ Dmitry Terekhov
I've been boring people with talk about the Open Skies Treaty for months, but what really shocked and disappointed me was the complete lack of international reaction when treaty-signatory member Turkey seriously violated the treaty; nothing publicly came of it, at all.  No public protests from the US, Canada, or any other members; just Russia, who was the signatory member who was trying to do the overflight of Turkey to begin with.

Let me explain with an example; when any nation who is signatory to the Open Skies Treaty proposes to fly over the United States, they table a flight plan on day 1, as soon as they arrive.  The US representatives review that flight plan and consider what they want to overfly, and let the military units along that route know to cover up their super-top-secret stuff because an observation flight is immanent.  But... They do have the option to send the Russians home if a "High Value Activity" would be exposed, and cannot be avoided.  It is the last possible option, and absolutely the least desirable.

Let me bring your attention to:

Air Force Manual 16-604 - Oct 2009
Implementation Of, And Compliance With, The Treaty on Open Skies

Specifically what the USAF calls a "High Value Activity" (HVA); the only reason given in the USAF manual to scrub an entire Open Skies Treaty flight.
6.3.2. In general, an HVA is an activity that: Will incur substantial monetary cost if postponed or cancelled, Cannot be concealed and reveals national security information if observed, Takes advantage of a unique set of chronological or meteorological circumstances which cannot be duplicated, or The command/agency believes special circumstances apply
Meaning, if a Russia requests an overflight, and a flight plan tabled, for an overflight of the United States, and some "high value activity" is going on, they might refuse the whole flight.  Take for an example a satellite launch that has a short window of opportunity; they can't have a Russian Open Skies plane flying over a rocket launch site; not for "national security" reasons, but practical reasons - they don't want to accidentally hit the Russian plane.  Alternatively, an HVA could be a scheduled test of a new military technology that they don't want the Russians to see, and can't be hidden or the time of the test changed for some reason.

The manual goes on to say...
6.3.5. With each HVA Report, the unit/MAJCOM must indicate their recommendation associated with this HVA. If the HVA can be deconflicted, the recommendation would likely be to report the HVA for information only. If the unit’s preference is to seek to negotiate around the event, negotiating guidance will be given to the DTRA Escort Team Chief. If the recommendation is to avoid the HVA, then the reporting unit will need to provide the name and immediate contact information for the senior flag officer supporting the HVA. This recommendation is a recommendation to violate a legally binding international treaty. This scenario is serious and will involve guidance from the HVAG or higher.
To summarise, if there is something that can't be moved or deconflicted, like a super-secret item out in the open that can't be hidden and would cause embarrassment or compromise national security if photographed, the military has the option to scrub the whole Open Skies overflight, if they can't negotiate their way out of it with the overflying nation.  They know that's the absolute worst case, since it would "violate a legally binding international treaty".  The last thing the US Military wants to do is put itself into a front-page news conflict about covering up some secret activity it was trying to hide in the first place; it is absolutely the last recourse to cancel the entire overflight.

But, that's exactly what Turkey did.  Obviously Turkey has their own playbook, and I don't have the Turkey Open Skies field manual, but I bet as a fellow NATO member they don't want to be front page treaty-violation news either.  Conveniently, Western media gave them a pass on the whole ordeal, likely because nobody understood what was going on, because the US, as a matter of policy, doesn't publicise or talk about the Open Skies Treaty unless asked directly.  It says so in the Air Force manual.

Russia provided one week of notice of its intent to overfly Turkey between February 1st and February 5th 2016.  Russia conducted its previous overflight in in December, shortly after the Turks shot down a Russian fighter bomber under contentious circumstances; you'd think their relationship would have been at it's worst, but the overflight went ahead anyway.  Upon the Russians' arrival in February, just like every other time, the Russians tabled a flight plan.  This time, Turkey and Russia could not agree on a flight plan; meaning Russia wanted to overfly something specific, and Turkey said no.  The only way out of that impasse, is for Turkey to contravene the treaty entirely, and send the Russians home.  I conclude they must have hit an HVA situation, as is outlined in the USAF manual under  I don't know what other reason they could have.  The question, of course, is what was it that was a HVA that the Russians wanted to overfly?  The proposed flight plan was not released by either the Russians or the Turks.  The flight plan is unclassified (not Secret or Top Secret), and nowhere in the treaty are signatory nations barred from being released; it can be made public if they want to make it so.  I sent requests to the Russian MFA, Russian Embassy in Canada and Russian OSCE via Twitter - with no response (nor did I expect to hear anything back, but hey, why not try?)

I think it's quite possible, since Turkey is hosting American and other NATO forces, that coalition forces that were not publically disclosed ( like... a drone base, a foreign Special Forces base, deployed Electronic Warfare equipment, foreign artillery, foreign MLRS, etc.. ) could have been dug in along the flight route, and the Turks (or foreign nation (Americans?)) did not want their forces photographed, as they were not disclosing to their citizens they had those forces in place.  If we go with the narrative the Russians are pushing in their media, the overflight was scrubbed to hide Turkish cooperation with IS/ISIL/ISIS/Daesh forces smuggling arms and oil across the border.
The Turkish statement (quoted below) to the media says that in December 2015 (right after the Russian fighter-bomber was shot down) the Russian Open Skies flight plan was approved and flown with the modifications to the flight plan; these changes were proposed by the Turks and agreed to by the Russians.  So why couldn't they negotiate through this flight plan?

None of this Russian-Turkish Open Skies hubbub was picked up on by the Western media.
No analysis or in depth reporting was done.
Why is that?

Here is the official statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, Tanju Bilgiç, regarding the failed Russian Open Skies Treaty flight:
"QA-4, 4 
February 2016, Statement of the Spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, Tanju Bilgiç In Response to a Question Concerning the Open Skies Treaty Observation Flight over Turkey that could not be conducted by the Russian Federation
The Treaty on Open Skies, envisaged as a confidence and security building measure in the OSCE geography, was opened for signature in 1992. Currently 34 states, including Turkey are parties to the Treaty. The Treaty establishes a regime that permits States Parties to conduct aerial observation flights over the territories of other States Parties in accordance with distributed quotas.
Observation flights are performed when the observing Party and the observed Party reach agreement on the mission plan. In the case of the observation flight requested by the Russian Federation for 2-5 February 2016, agreement could not be reached on the mission plan and the flight has thus not been conducted.
The limitations imposed by the Russian Federation on observation flights over its own territory is already known by all States Parties to the said Treaty. On the other hand, the observation flight of the Russian Federation in Turkey in December 2015, was conducted on the basis of mission plan changes as suggested by Turkey." (ref here)
That statement says pretty much nothing.  The Russian "restrictions" placed on Open Skies flights over Russia do not prohibit overflights, and have nothing to do with this overflight anyway.

Russian MoD Statement:
"First of all, it is to be reminded that the Russian Federation was to have conducted an observation flight over the territory of the Turkish Republic on February 1-5, 2016 in accordance with the Treaty on Open Skies. A preliminary approval for the flight had been received from the Turkish party within the time limits prescribed by the Treaty."
Meaning Russia gave Turkey seven days notice that they would be conducting an overflight, and Turkey agreed, which is normal.
"Yesterday a group of Russian observers arrived at the Turkish airport Eskisehir and submitted the route of the observation flight to Turkish representatives as it’s required under the Treaty."
This shows the Russian flight crew, and treaty-allowed plane, with appropriate sensor suite, arrived and proposed their flight plan and mission plan.  Nothing unusual.
"However, the Turkish Defense Ministry officials refused the Russian specialists to perform the observation flight over the areas adjacent to Syria, as well as over the airfields with concentrations of NATO aviation and without any specific explanation at that."
So it goes pear-shaped at this point; Turkish officials had 4 hours to negotiate and agree to a flight plan with the Russians, but they didn't like something in the flight plan, and said no - or proposed changes to go around the area of interest that the Russians didn't agree to, effectively saying no.  Russian sources have stated that the Turks haven't wanted overflights near Patriot missile batteries along the border with Syria, and at the air bases where coalition planes are operating from.  Maybe there are aircraft that are deployed to the coalition airbases that nobody has admitted to, but I can't imagine what sort of planes those would be.  Heavy strategic bombers?  Undisclosed attack helicopters?  An uptick in USAF C-17 transport aircraft landing in Turkey was noticed by plane watching enthusiasts around the same time.  Was this related?

Interestingly (to me) the Incirlik Air Base houses American and Turkish B-61 nuclear bombs.  Maybe the Russians wanted to have a look at the readiness of the hangers which have the B-61 bombs hidden underneath in vaults?
Maybe nuclear-capable fighters are already positioned in those hangers?
Could there be nuclear saber rattling going on that neither side wants to admit to in public?

I'm sure they won't tell us the real reason the Turkish Open Skies flight was denied in February 2016, but it would be nice to have a better idea of what is really going on.

TASS news stories on the Turkish refusal to grant the overflight
(which are arguably official statements from the Russian side)

Feb 2, 2016    http://tass.ru/en/defense/853806
Feb 3, 2016    http://tass.ru/en/defense/854345
Feb 4, 2016    http://tass.ru/en/world/854458
Feb 4, 2016    http://tass.ru/en/politics/854677
Feb 5, 2016    http://tass.ru/en/politics/854715
Feb 19, 2016  http://tass.ru/en/politics/858021

I believe this is the most notable event in the Open Skies world this year.


Because Syria is at war, they are a Russian ally, with Russian and Iranian troops on the ground, in Syria.  Rumours of Turkey preparing for a ground invasion of Syria had been floating around for months.  Turkey has been meddling with cross border affairs, including incursions into Syrian territory by armoured units, and shelling villages inside Syria from Turkey.  Doing an overflight of their border region to make sure they are not amassing an army to cross the border is *exactly* what the Open Skies Treaty was written for; but it was blocked easily, and without any significant media coverage.

How can that be?

The RV Yantar pops up on AIS, momentarily

Photo Credit: Cees Bustraan / ShipSpotting.com - September 20th, 2015
I'm quite fascinated how commercial and military ships both use AIS-T and AIS-S while in transit.  Of course, when performing operations military ships turn off their AIS beacons to be less noticeable, but once and a while someone hits the wrong button.

Last year when the RV Yantar ("RV" as it is officially a Research Vessel, with SAR capabilities) was headed back to Murmansk, the home of the Russian Northern Fleet, she seemed to go out of AIS-T range somewhere North of Norway in the Barents Sea.  But when she docked at the port in Murmansk on October 28th 2015, she didn't show up on AIS-T.  There are AIS-T receivers in the Port of Murmansk, and other ships show up - just not the Yantar... so, they must have turned off their beacon, while travelling in shipping lanes and docking in a port.  Isn't that weird for a research vessel involved in nothing military or suspicious in nature?  Isn't it?

As I mentioned last year, the Yantar is rumoured to have been commissioned by the GUGI (An acronym for what roughly translates to Main Directorate for Deep Sea Research), the part of the Ministry of Defence of Russia which is responsible for "underwater engineering" - a euphemism meaning spying by means of planting, tampering with or stealing objects underwater (source).  I suspect this is the equivalent of the US National Underwater Reconnaissance Office.  Warefare.be reports the Yantar is part of the 29th Special Squadron of the Northern Fleet, which is the unit that operates the underwater spy submarines and "stretch submarine variants that act as "mother ships" for the Russian Navy.  The 29th Special Squadron is based at Olenya Guba (Оле́нья Губа).

Oh yes, so about the button.  Evidently someone turned on the AIS beacon on the RV Yantar while it was docked on July 6th, 2016.  Where?  In Olenya Guba, of course!  I don't think the ship had been tracked all the way back there before, which is why I was excited!

Location of the RV Yantar / July 6, 2016
Lat/Lon:69.21657 / 33.3624 (UTC)
Speed/Course:0.0 kn / 20°
Image courtesy of MarineTraffic.com

Russian violations of the Open Skies Treaty?

Members of the American government and American military who seem opposed to the Open Skies Treaty have mentioned, in vague terms, Russian "violations" of the treaty during congressional hearings and quotes in the media (see here and here for context).  So, since I couldn't find anyone in the media who was specifically outlining what those "violations were", I went looking for them.  The most important question in my mind was, what are they, and are these violations major, or minor?  Are these American officials using these violations as an excuse to throw the entire treaty under the bus and start a new Cold War, or worse, a nuclear winter.

Below you will find a link to the whole 2016 Report on Adherence to and Compliance With Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments by the US Department of State's Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance - which covers events in CY 2015, a significant amount of which I've pasted below, and the rebuttal from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding the violations the Americans have accused Russia of.  You can draw your own conclusions; I'm not trying to spin this for any country, I want to encourage discussion.  But why haven't media organisations published these statements in their entirety?  Does it break the narrative being portrayed?

The whole State Department document can be found here.  Skip down the page (way down) and you'll find my take on it.  Compare that with what you read; see if we agree, or how we disagree.  For a treaty that is this important, let's not just trust what we're being told.  These are not insurmountable military riddles; you do not need to be a military expert of any sort to be informed.  Here is the Open Skies section of the State Department report:
The OST establishes a regime for the conduct of unarmed observation flights by States Parties over the territories of other States Parties using up to four types of sensors (optical panoramic and framing cameras, video cameras with real-time display, infra-red line-scanning devices, and sideways-looking synthetic aperture radar). The Treaty was signed at Helsinki on March 24, 1992. The Treaty entered into force on January 1, 2002, and is of unlimited duration. As of December 31, 2015, 34 States Parties have signed and ratified the OST.
In March and April 2015, the Open Skies Consultative Commission (OSCC) adopted five new Treaty decisions that update the provisions related to the Treaty’s transition from film to digital optical sensors. These decisions capped a year-long effort by the United States to provide procedures for bringing the next generation of optical Treaty sensors into use while addressing and mitigating the concerns of U.S. departments and agencies and other States Parties.
Belarus and Russia participate in the Treaty as the Belarus/Russian Federation Group of States Parties. The United States first began addressing compliance concerns for the Belarus/Russian Federation Group of States Parties in the 2004 Compliance Report. All OST compliance concerns for 2015 are related to Russia alone. 
Russia continues not to meet its treaty obligations to allow effective observation of its entire territory, raising serious compliance concerns under Article VI and VIII of the OST and OSCC Decision 3/04. Specifically, Russia has:
enforced a “maximum flight distance” of 500 kilometers for all flights over Kaliningrad since 2014; refused access in a ten-kilometer corridor along its border with the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia since 2010; refused access in the Moscow region below 3,600 meters altitude in an area 39 kilometers by 31 kilometers, identified by Russian Air Traffic Control as UUP-53 since 2005, and below 5,100 meters altitude over Chechnya and nearby areas of southwestern Russia since 2002; and refused to provide air traffic control facilitation, including by improperly invoking force majeure, for certain OST flights since 2011. 
In 2014, Russia imposed a 500-kilometer limit for all observation flights over Kaliningrad, including flights that originate from the Kubinka airfield, which otherwise has a maximum flight distance of 5,500 kilometers. In July 2015, a joint Romania-United States mission proposed a flight plan of 772 kilometers over Kaliningrad, which was rejected by Russia. Russia also rejected similar flight plans of greater than 500 kilometers proposed by a Germany-Latvia mission in April 2015, a United Kingdom mission in June 2015, a Poland mission in July 2015, and a Canada-Spain mission in September 2015. The affected States Parties objected to these restrictions in the respective mission reports.
In July 2015, a joint Ukraine-United States mission proposed a flight plan within 10 kilometers of Russia’s border with the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which Russia rejected. In August 2015, Russia rejected a similar flight plan during a Turkey mission.
In November 2015, Russia rejected the flight plan of a joint Canada-United States mission that proposed to transit UUP-53 at an altitude less than 3,600 meters, but at the certified altitude of the sensor. Russia imposed similar altitude restrictions over Chechnya in 2002 due to conflict in the area and purported safety-of-flight considerations; the restrictions remained in place through 2015.
Russia forced a United States mission to deviate from an agreed-upon flight plan in 2014 based upon an improper claim of force majeure because of assertions of very important person (VIP) movement concerns. A similar incident occurred during a United Kingdom flight in June 2015, though this issue did not affect the United States in 2015. 
Imposing a Sublimit of 500 Kilometers for Flights Over Kaliningrad. As provided for by Annex A, Section III, flights originating from the Kubinka Open Skies Airfield are subject to a maximum flight distance of 5,500 kilometers. No treaty provision allows a State Party to establish a sub-limit within the maximum flight distance of an established Open Skies Airfield, as Russia has done for missions originating from the Kubinka Open Skies Airfield for the territory of Kaliningrad. To the contrary, Subparagraph 1(b) of OSCC Decision 3/04 precludes a State Party from decreasing the maximum flight distance of an Open Skies Airfield. Relatedly, Subparagraph 1(a) of this decision requires that the coverage of the entire territory of a State Party shall be ensured in such a way so as not to increase the number of flights required for the opportunity to observe the entire territory of that State Party. U.S. experts have determined that 500 kilometers is insufficient to enable the United States to observe Kaliningrad in its entirety in one flight. Russia’s 500-kilometer limit on flights over Kaliningrad raises serious concerns about its adherence to OSCC Decision 3/04, a view that the majority of OST States Parties share.
Airspace Restrictions Along the Russia-Georgia Border. Article VI, Section II, Paragraph 2, prohibits flight within 10 kilometers of a border with a non-State Party. Russia claims the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions of Georgia are independent states not party to the Treaty, and thus takes the position that Article VI, Section II, Paragraph 2, prohibits flight within ten kilometers of its border with those regions. However, South Ossetia and Abkhazia are within the internationally recognized borders of Georgia, and are considered by all other States Parties to be part of Georgia, which is party to the Treaty. Accordingly, in the U.S. view, there does not appear to be any basis within the Treaty to exclude observation flights from within ten kilometers of any portion of the Russia-Georgia border. Russia’s rejection of the U.S. flight plan raises serious concerns about Russia’s adherence to its obligations under Articles VI and VIII by denying States Parties the right to observe the territory along portions of its border with Georgia.
Altitude Restrictions Over/Near UUP-53 and Chechnya. Article VI, Section II, Paragraph 2, states that an observing Party’s mission plan “may provide for an observation flight that allows for the observation of any point on the entire territory of the observed Party, including areas designated by the observed Party as hazardous airspace ....” In addition, the Treaty permits an observing Party to obtain a ground resolution of no better than 30 centimeters for optical panoramic cameras, optical framing cameras, and video cameras. Due to the certified minimum altitudes at which U.S. sensors can obtain such resolution, Russian altitude restrictions prevent observation at 30-centimeter resolution of the UUP-53 area (in the Moscow region) and Chechnya by most U.S. sensor configurations. Four other States Parties are similarly affected by Russia’s altitude restrictions and four States Parties are unable to achieve maximum Treaty-permitted resolutions with any of their certified sensor configurations. The inability of these States Parties to observe parts of Russian territory effectively has a direct impact on the United States since approximately one-third of U.S. observation missions are conducted using other States Parties’ aircraft. Russia’s altitude restrictions raise serious concerns about Russia’s adherence to its obligations under Article VI.
Failure to Provide Air Traffic Control Facilitation. Article VI, Section I, Paragraph 15, states that the observed Party “shall ensure its air traffic control authorities facilitate the conduct of observation flights in accordance with this Treaty.” Once a flight plan is accepted by the observing and observed Parties, the Treaty does not provide for deviations from the flight plan unless “necessitated” by the scenarios specified in Article VIII, Section II, Paragraph 1, which include “air traffic control instructions related to circumstances brought about by force majeure.”
The term force majeure is not defined in the Treaty, but it is widely understood in international law to refer to a force or event beyond a State’s control. VIP movements are known in advance and are within the control of the government. Russia’s restrictions do not fit this description and therefore do not constitute force majeure. Russia’s practice of groundlessly invoking force majeure to justify deviations from accepted flight plans during negotiations or to force deviations of observation missions in flight raises serious concerns about Russia’s adherence to its obligations under Articles VI and VIII of the Treaty. 
The United States and other States Parties have raised these compliance concerns repeatedly in 2015 through OST notifications, statements in the OSCC – including at the Third Review Conference in June 2015 – and bilaterally with Russia in consultations at various levels. In the OSCC, the United States continued to oppose any airspace restriction inhibiting an observing Party’s right to observe any point on the observed Party’s territory in accordance with the Treaty. U.S. initiative placed the altitude and airspace concerns related to Russia’s implementation in the Informal Working Group on Rules and Procedures (IWGRP) of the OSCC, where the United States continues to lead the effort to reach solutions. The United States continues to consult with other States Parties that have altitude restrictions for a variety of reasons. Poland submitted a working paper to the OSCC co-sponsored by 15 States Parties, including the United States, which outlined the problems associated with Russia’s actions in Kaliningrad. This issue also remains on the agenda of the IWGRP. U.S. officials, as well as Allied representatives, continued to object to Russia’s groundless invocation of force majeure in connection with VIP movements in an effort to justify deviations from agreed-upon flight plans. In 2015, the United States began to discuss with other OST States Parties compliance concerns raised by Russia’s conduct. To date, these efforts have not resolved any of the compliance concerns. 
In 2015, Russia made clear that it would not allow Ukraine to conduct solo observation flights over its territory unless Ukraine paid for each flight in advance. As a result, Ukraine has been unable to conduct any solo flights over Russian territory during 2015. Although not involving an obligation owed the United States, Russia’s conduct raises serious concerns about its adherence to OSCC Decisions 2/15 and 2/09. There is a reasonable basis to conclude that Russia’s refusal to allow Ukraine to overfly Russia without prepayment could be the basis for a violation determination on the part of Ukraine. 
In January 2015, the OSCC decided on the annual distribution of observation flight quotas for 2015. The OSCC’s decision allotted six quotas to Ukraine for observation flights over Russia – some to be flown by Ukraine solo, and some to be flown in partnership with other States Parties. On February 9, Ukraine notified Russia via Format 12 notification that it intended to conduct an observation flight over its territory. The following day, Russia responded via Format 13 notification, citing a prior Format 35 notification to Ukraine with instructions for pre-payment and bank routing information. Russia made clear in subsequent statements, including at a January 2015 OSCC Plenary session, that it would not allow Ukraine to conduct a solo observation flight over its territory unless Ukraine paid for the flight in advance. As a result of Ukraine’s refusal to pay in advance, Ukraine was unable to conduct any solo flights over Russian territory during 2015. 
OSCC Decision 2/09, Section I, Paragraph 1 provides that, unless otherwise specified in the Decision or agreed to by the States Parties, “an observing Party using its own observation aircraft or an observation aircraft designated by a third Party shall reimburse the observed Party” for certain costs, including fuel, oil, oxygen, de-icing fluid, and ground and technical servicing. Paragraph six of the Decision specifies certain other costs, including costs related to meals and accommodation of the observing Party’s personnel, which the observing Party shall reimburse “in accordance with the mechanism set forth in this Decision.”
The mechanism for such reimbursement is described in Section V of Decision 2/09. As provided in Paragraph 9, “[n]o later than 30 days after completion of an observation flight the observed Party shall transmit an invoice to the observing Party clearly itemizing the costs incurred during that observation flight ….” Paragraph 10 provides that “[u]nless otherwise agreed, at the end of each calendar year the States Parties will exchange requests for payment in EUR or US dollars.” Following a review of these requests, “any State Party that is in debt to any other State Party shall pay its debt in EUR or US dollars to that State Party no later than 1 March of the following year – unless the debt is still under discussion.”
The pre-payment procedures imposed by Russia in its Format 13 and Format 35 notifications appear to be plainly inconsistent with the reimbursement procedures prescribed by Decision 2/09. Accordingly, it could reasonably be argued that Ukraine had no obligation to comply with the Russian procedures, and Russia had no basis to condition Ukraine’s ability to conduct observation flights over Russian territory upon Ukraine’s submission to the pre-payment procedures. 
During 2015, the United States, Ukraine, and several other like-minded States Parties have objected to this practice during meetings of the OSCC and during the 3rd Review Conference in June. To date, these efforts have not resolved this issue, and Russia continues to insist Ukraine prepay for its solo flights. Accordingly, to avoid delaying adoption of the 2016 quota allocation, Ukraine did not bid on any solo flights over Russia, instead opting only to conduct flights with partners. The United States will continue to support Ukraine in its effort to resolve this issue at the OSCC.
Here is the rebuttal from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (which isn't easy to find using Google unless you know exactly what you're looking for)  The source is here or here.  Also of note, this is an unofficial translation, copied from their official web site.
15 April 2016 19:13
Comment by the Information and Press Department of the MFA of Russia on the US Department of State 2015 Report on Adherence to and Compliance With Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments 
         On April 12, the US Department of State published its annual Report to the Congress on Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments in 2015. Same as before, Washington did not limit itself to presenting its own “exemplary” compliance with all its treaty obligations but acted also as a “mentor” who deemed itself entitled to assess the corresponding “progress” of other States.
         Even a quick analysis of the Report shows that it can hardly be taken as a serious document that qualifies for portraying the real situation in arms control and non-proliferation.
         Without taking the trouble to provide any evidence, the US Department of State actually slid into unsubstantiated accusations against Russia. The assessments provided in the report are blatantly judgmental, biased and prejudiced. They are comprised of an extravagant combination of speculations, exaggerations, assumptions as well as blatantly false messages and deliberately distorted facts. The obvious goal is to create a negative image of Russia in the hope that few readers will make an effort to analyze the details of the unsupported examples of Russia’s alleged “violations”. When compared to the real state of affairs, the US Department of State “assessments”, unfortunately, bring about thoughts about these regrettable “expert evaluation.”
         For the third year in a row, the Report renders absolutely unfounded accusations of Russia supposedly violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The Report states that Russia produces and tests ground‑launched cruise missiles with a range of 500 km to 5,500 km and their associated launchers. According to all indications the American side does not have any objective evidence neither has it any weighty arguments to substantiate these allegations made against Russia. Washington deliberately creates a negative information backdrop for the INF Treaty in an attempt to discredit Russia.
         Whereas the following Russian concerns are disregarded,
         (1)     The United States continues its tests in the interests of missile defense using target missiles which have characteristics similar to those of intermediate- and shorter-range ballistic missiles (these tests are used, inter alia, to further improve the key elements of Treaty-prohibited missile systems);
         (2)     The United States continues to increase production and use of heavy attack UAVs that clearly fall under the INF Treaty definition of ground‑launched cruise missiles;
         (It should be noted that we have been pointing to our American colleagues at these two obvious violations of the INF Treaty by the United States for as long as a decade and a half. There has not been so far any constructive feedback.)
         (3)     A relatively new and rather serious violation of the INF Treaty was the deployment in Europe of the Mk 41 systems capable of launching Tomahawk intermediate-range cruise missiles. These vertical launch systems are being installed today at the Deveselu missile defense base in Romania, and the construction of a similar facility in Poland is next in turn.
         What stands out are the persisting statements of Pentagon authorities on thrashing out options of military response, up to eventual deployment of Treaty-prohibited intermediate- and shorter-range missiles close to the Russian borders. This exposes a real (coming from Pentagon) rather than imaginary (coming from Russia) threat of undermining the INF regime, which can have unpredictable consequences for Europe and for the international community as a whole.
         We call upon the United States to stop throwing out innuendoes against Russia and to focus instead on complying with its own INF obligations.
         Washington’s approach to compliance with its obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is still of great concern. The US and its non-nuclear NATO allies continue their nuclear skill training as part of the so-called “nuclear sharing”. This is a serious violation of Articles I and II of the NPT.
         Instead of making publicity statements on the US commitment to making further steps in nuclear disarmament, it would be reasonable first to bring back all American non-strategic nuclear weapons to the national territory (as Russia did about a quarter-century ago), introduce a ban on their deployment outside the national territory, eliminate all facilities necessary to redeploy urgently the US nuclear weapons in Europe, and certainly abandon any nuclear exercises (drills) for the personnel of the armed forces from non-nuclear NATO States.
         It is seriously alarming that, as part of its unprecedented nuclear arsenal modernization programme, the US is planning to deploy in Europe new nuclear aerial bombs of lower yield but higher precision. This is a very dangerous project that can significantly lower the “threshold” of nuclear weapons use when US nuclear bombs in Europe could turn into “battlefield weapons”. It is important to remember that Moscow and Washington turned down this option 25 years ago. Today, the US seems keen to recover its previous irresponsible practice of balancing on the brink of nuclear war.
         At the 2015 NPT Review Conference the US along with the UK and Canada blocked the concluding document of the Conference, thus demonstrating that strengthening the nuclear non-proliferation regime was not on their priority list. This is particularly unfortunate, considering that the US is a depositary state for the NPT, and, furthermore, aspires to become a global non-proliferation leader.
         Washington’s declared commitment to stronger non-proliferation regime is also obviously contradicted by its inconsistent position on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).
         As far as in the mid-1990s President Bill Clinton declared the CTBT the “No.1 priority” for the US. Since then, the Americans have made numerous statements on their intention to ratify the CTBT and pursue its early entry into force. President Obama also made promises to the effect but has failed to make any practical steps in this direction so far.
         This year marks twenty years since the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was open for signature. The Treaty’s destiny still lies in hands of those eight Member States listed in Annex 2 whose ratification is required for its entry into force.
         Washington’s irresponsible position in terms of CTBT ratification is the main obstacle toward making the Treaty an effective international legal instrument. Other countries also act looking out for Washington. Therefore, the prospects that the CTBT will enter into force are not within view.
         The indecent intention of the US Department of State to contest the entirety of Russia’s announcement on Article III of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and thus to challenge the adequacy and deserved authority of the OPCW as the most efficient and successful global structure for disarmament and WMD nonproliferation never fails to amaze. However, the OPCW has no claims against Russia, unlike Washington.
         In turn, we would like to advise our US counterparts to abandon their “double standards” in the use of chemical weapons by non-State actors in the Middle East. Washington itself should comply with its obligations under UNSC Resolutions 2118, 2209 and 2235, and share with the Security Council the evidence of crimes committed by ISIS and other terrorist groups in Iraqi Kurdistan, which the US forces obtained in 2015-2016 directly at the sites where the extremists had used toxic agents.
         Only the politicization and interest in propaganda campaign against Russia can explicate the content of the section that “analyzes” Russia’s compliance with the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention (BWC). It is illustrative that this year only Russia was chosen as a target of vain insinuations and figments in this area. It fits well within the style of information warfare unleashed against Russia, when, as the saying goes, no holds barred. The subsequent attempts to denigrate Russia are aimed at distracting attention from the abominable role that the US plays within the BWC context.
         The facts on the ground are that the US itself seriously damaged the BWC regime by ruining at its sole discretion the long-lasting multilateral talks aimed at elaborating the additional Protocol to the BWC, which were approaching to an end. According to the then-drafted Protocol the microbiological activity of the States Parties would have been subject to on-site inspections by an independent authority - the Technical Secretariat. Having derailed the Protocol, the US now complains of having apparently no possibility to verify the compliance with the BWC. It has nobody to blame but itself for this, including for the fact that it has been blocking any constructive attempts to step up a substantive work within the framework of BWC since 2001.
         Against this background, the international community is particularly concerned about the Pentagon’s dangerous microbiological activities. We shall give only two most alarming examples.
         First, the years long mailing of live anthrax spores by the US Department of Defense all over the world. Far from being accidental, this mailing occurred on 195 occasions and reached 12 States all over the world. As a result, not only nescient US citizens but also populations in other countries were exposed to a fatal danger of contamination. Until now, the scale of these violations has not been established, including the real purpose of the US Defense Department’s “manufacturing sites” where spores have been developed and the true objectives of their forwarding to the US military facilities overseas.
         Second, the continuous expansion of overseas military biological infrastructure of the US Defense Department. The corresponding facilities have sprung up in many countries, and in recent years they are being created increasingly closer to the Russian borders. There is no question of the “humanitarian orientation” of work of such microbiologists and doctors in uniform, who deal with highly contagious disease agents, but one can only guess as to the real subject of their activity because the latter is fully classified. For example, the US Department of Defense has built a high-level biological isolation laboratory in the village of Alekseyevka near Tbilisi to be used for its own, behind-the-scene purposes. It was declared for form’s sake that the facility was handed over to Georgia while a US Army medical research unit deployed there was just a “tenant.”
         While accusing developing countries of a lack of progress in implementing the BWC at the national level, including by approving relevant legislation, the US consciously and consistently keeps its own laws that run counter to its international commitments. These include, in particular, the reservation to the 1925 Geneva Protocol with regard to the right to use chemical or toxin weapons and the US President’s Executive Order 11850 that enables the US armed forces to use “nonlethal” chemical and toxin weapons as warfare agents. Particularly flagrant is the implementation of the 2001 Patriot Act that actually endorses the development of biological weapons with consent of the US Government. In our opinion, the “biological” section of this document must be repealed immediately.
         It is not for the first year that the Report’s section dedicated to the Treaty on Open Skies (OST) reproduces a set of cut-and -dried allegations accusing Russia of non-compliance with Treaty. We have repeatedly provided exhaustive replies to such allegations in the Open Skies Consultative Commission (OSCC) and in our responses to previous State Department’s reports of this kind.
         With regard to Russia restricting the use of its airspace, we reiterate that the altitude limitation for aircraft flying over Moscow and Chechen prohibited areas are due to flight safety requirements (given the absence of continuous radar monitoring at lower altitudes).
         The limits of the maximum flying distance over the Kaliningrad Oblast were introduced pursuant to the relevant OST provisions and OSCC decision. Such procedure provides for the same efficiency of observation as during flights over the rest of the territory of the Russian Federation and over the territories of adjacent States (Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia).
         The restrictions for Open Skies flights near the borders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have been introduced in accordance with the Treaty that states that observation flights shall be allowed up to ten kilometers from the border with an adjacent State that is not a State Party. The independent States of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are not Parties to the OST.
         Another US claim concerns Russia’s alleged refusal to ensure priority status for Open Skies flights. However, under the Treaty, observation flights shall take priority over any regular air traffic, that is, regular commercial flights.
         Now we would like to dwell on what the authors of the US Report conceal, i.e. violations of the Open Skies Treaty by the United States and its NATO allies.
         For 12 years of the operation of the Treaty the United States has been disregarding its provisions on providing special procedures for observation of US island territories and possessions. Therefore, a considerable portion of the US territory has been inaccessible for observation for a long time in gross violation of the fundamentals of the Treaty. Washington did not make advances to accommodate Russian requests till the end of 2015.
         The United States practically closed its territory for observation by Russian AN‑30B aircraft with digital sensors in violation of the States Parties’ right to conduct observation flights. At the same time, Washington launched a media campaign blowing up an argument on the allegedly emerging threat to the US national security in case of flights being conducted by the Russian Open Skies aircraft with digital sensors onboard. However, it is admitted in the Report that the US itself initiated the transition to digital technologies within the OST.
         The United States acted demonstratively when supporting Georgia’s decision, which was destructive for the fundamentals of the Treaty, to cease the implementation of its OST obligations with regard to Russia and thus set up a precedent of selective implementation of this multilateral document. By the way, although promised, the United States has not secured since 2008 the payment of Georgia’s debt due for their joint observation flight over the Russian territory.
         Having assumed to itself the right to pass judgments on the acts of other States, the American side persistently justifies the violations of the Treaty obligations by its NATO allies. Thus instead of condemning Turkey’s closure to observation of a considerable portion of its south-eastern territories in contradiction to the very basics of the Treaty, Washington cynically stated that it was satisfied with the way Turkey complied with the Treaty. It appears that the policy of double standards has long become the norm for our American colleagues.
         As for the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), there is no sense to come back to this issue. It should be reminded that the United States itself and its NATO allies created conditions that undermined the viability of the CFE Treaty and made inevitable its suspension by Russia in 2007. Since then, the erosion and weakening of the conventional arms control regime in Europe have only aggravated.
         Moreover, the United States and NATO have opted for a policy of “deterring” Russia and changing the balance of forces on the European continent in their favour by expanding the alliance and moving its military infrastructure further east and, most recently, by deploying their troops in close proximity to the Russian borders.
         We are convinced that the prospects for elaborating a new conventional arms control regime in Europe based on the principles of equal and indivisible security and the balance of rights and obligations of the parties should be considered in conjunction with NATO’s renouncing from strengthening its military “deterrence” measures against Russia and thereby restoring an adequate level of trust and normal relations with the Russian Federation, including in military cooperation.
         These past few years, the US Department of State’s reports routinely accuse Russia of “selective implementation” and “insufficient transparency” with regard to the Vienna Document 2011 on Confidence and Security-Building Measures. It should be stated, however, that neither “unusual or unscheduled military activities” nor exceeding thresholds of notified armed forces activities have been registered in the course of the three inspections conducted by Ukraine, the Netherlands and Turkey in the Southern Military District in the regions bordering Ukraine. Kiev’s attempts to blame Russia of non-compliance with certain provisions of the Vienna Document were not supported by any serious arguments, to which we pointed in our replies to the Ukrainian side.
         By the way, Kiev did not implement its own commitments under the Vienna Document with regard to the military activities of its armed forces in Donbass both in 2014 and 2015. But the Report of the US State Department has omitted to mention this.
         In 2015, Russia voluntarily sent four notifications to the OSCE participating States, including the United States, citing the detailed parameters of unscheduled military and aviation inspections that were conducted in several military districts. Of course, these notifications included the forces that fall within the provisions of the Vienna Document.
         As for reproaching Russia for non-provision of information on military bases of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation located in the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, we note that these sovereign States are not participants to the OSCE and are, therefore, not included in the zone of confidence-building measures, as it is defined by the Vienna Document 2011. The US experts who drafted this section of the State Department’s Report are certainly well aware of this. They also know for sure that Russia submits this information in line with another OSCE instrument, the Global Exchange of Military Information. By the way, Turkey, a US ally, is doing the same with regard to its forces in Northern Cyprus. This does not provoke any objections in Washington.
         A few words about the Russian BRM-1K armoured vehicle mentioned in the US Report (certainly reproaching Russia for concealing this data). In terms of its technical specifications, this vehicle does not fit into any military equipment category on which information is to be submitted under the Vienna Document 2011. It is revealing that the United States which has failed to resolve this issue for many years within the CFE Treaty is now trying “to drag” it into the VD-2011.
         It appears that the authors of the Report, who have not found any specific provisions that would allow them to really “catch” Russia, are trying groundlessly to accuse it of violating the principle of non-use of force or threat of force with regard to Ukraine. No evidence has been provided. At the same time, they “humbly” keep quiet about numerous real violations of that principle by the United States itself.
         We note that the platform of the Vienna Document is used by Washington to solve political tasks. For example, in 2015, the United States in their requests for inspections as part of its bilateral agreements with Ukraine deliberately included the territory of Crimea in the areas to be inspected. This was done to create a conflict situation and to launch another spiral of discussions in the OSCE. Naturally, we provided a well‑considered and legally sound reply to such “endeavors.”
         During an inspection on the territory of Bulgaria the Russian inspection team was taken to a military camp where the US armed forces units were located. Russian inspectors discovered several dozen tanks, armoured vehicles and howitzers, numerous motor vehicles, engineer and other equipment that belonged to the US Marine Corps units and were not declared at the briefing. During the inspection in the military camp, the inspection team was not allowed to leave its vehicle. A similar situation took place during an inspection of a US Army unit located in Spain. This means that improper implementation by Washington of the Vienna Document is not one-of-a-kind fact.
         Our review of the State Department’s Report leads to disappointing conclusions. Instead of engaging into a consistent thorough work to settle the existing divergences within the appropriate formats and with the participation of all interested States, the United States still prefers to repeat with certain variations year after year the politically motivated and lopsided assessments of implementation of provisions of arms control treaties and agreements by other States, without taking the trouble to search for arguments and facts.
         Russia stands for a civilized, substantive and constructive discussion at the negotiating table of issues arising during the implementation by States of their obligations in the area of arms control and non-proliferation.
         We call our American colleagues for engaging in such a work.
If you actually read all that I'm pretty impressed, or maybe I should say surprised!
"Russia continues not to meet its treaty obligations to allow effective observation of its entire territory, raising serious compliance concerns under Article VI and VIII of the OST and OSCC Decision 3/04." -2016 Report, US State Department
"its entire territory" is an interesting term to use since Russia's exact borders differ depending on who you ask.

"effective observation" is another interesting choice of words, since it is subjective.
"Specifically, Russia has:
(1) enforced a “maximum flight distance” of 500 kilometers for all flights over Kaliningrad since 2014;
(2) refused access in a ten-kilometer corridor along its border with the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia since 2010;
(3a) refused access in the Moscow region below 3,600 meters altitude in an area 39 kilometers by 31 kilometers, identified by Russian Air Traffic Control as UUP-53 since 2005,
(3b) and below 5,100 meters altitude over Chechnya and nearby areas of southwestern Russia since 2002;
(4) and refused to provide air traffic control facilitation including by improperly invoking force majeure, for certain OST flights since 2011."
I've numbered these myself to keep track point by point.

US Objection #1)

Are you familiar with Kaliningrad?  Probably not.  Here's a picture I swiped from Wikipedia

Russia's Kaliningrad District ( the tiny red area )
According to the treaty, every country can be overflown a certain number of times per year by other signatory states, and each flight has a maximum distance that can be travelled by the overflight, which I believe is based on which approved airport is being used.  The US, under the treaty, can ask for a flight up to 5,500km over Russian Federation territory.  Have you noticed that Kaliningrad is a district (like a province or a state) that is separate from the rest of Russia?  It's on the Baltic, and while not joined by a land bridge, is still very much part of Russia.  As far as I can tell from the treaty, the United States, or any signatory member, can request to fly 5,500km over Kaliningrad alone, as long as the flight plan doesn't double over itself.  The US hasn't requested that long of a flight plan, that I know of, but Russia has imposed their own sub-limit of 500km per overflight of Kaliningrad to ensure the Open Skies flight doesn't loiter all day over Kaliningrad.

I can think of no reason the US or any signatory nation wouldn't be able to do two, three, four - as many overflights as they would like to accomplish their objectives over Kaliningrad.  The US (above) claim that would be unacceptable, and 500km is insufficient.  Really?
Kaliningrad is ~15,100 km2, which is half the size of Vancouver Island, or three times larger than Prince Edward Island, or about the same size as Connecticut.  Scribbling a fictitious 500km flight plan of my own over Kaliningrad looks to me like it would cover quite a bit of territory, zig zagging back and forth over the area.

Since no provision for a sub-limit on the distance of an overflight over Kaliningrad is in the Open Skies Treaty, this unilateral limit imposed by the Russians *does* contravene the treaty.  However, I don't personally see this as a major problem, and I don't think it contravenes the spirit of the agreement either.  This should be settled by the OSCC by reducing the distance that is allowed when flying over Kaliningrad.

US Objection #2)

"Refused access in a ten-kilometer corridor along its border with the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia since 2010"

If off the top of your head you're familiar with the contested borders of Russia and Georgia I'm going to throw out a wild guess you're ahead of the vast majority of the world's people, so here's another Wikipedia-snatched image for those of us who don't know the Geopolitics of Georgia-Russian relations.

Source: Wikipedia
The Open Skies Treaty states any area of the country being overflown can be photographed, inside 10km of their borders with neighbouring countries that are not signatory to the Open Skies Treaty.  Since the United State and Russia disagree over who's territory the formerly Georgian regions of South Ossetia (3,900 km²) and Abkhazia (8,660km²) belong to, there is friction over this area. Russia insists these two Russian-supported breakaway areas of Georgia are independent States, and therefore the Open Skies overflights need to stay 10km away from their borders on the Russian side.  The United States doesn't see it that way, and doesn't recognize either as independent states from Georgia.  There's a whole Wikipedia article on the conflict here.  I can see no reason to focus so much attention on this reported violation of the treaty.  This is a 10 km strip of land inside Russia bordering on both regions that the Russians are insisting cannot be photographed due to the limitations set out in the OST.  If the Russians were to allow the Open Skies overflights in that 10 km strip from the border, they would be contradicting their political assertions that these two regions are independent.  So the US is objecting to a 10km x ~200km strip of land that can't be photographed due to Russian refusal based on an unrelated territorial dispute.  Am I downplaying the importance of this?  Absolutely.  This is no reason to throw out the treaty, impose sanctions, or retaliate based on this.  There is no threat to any state, Georgia, the United States, or anyone by not photographing this area.  This is being exploited for political gain.

US Objection #3a)

"refused access in the Moscow region below 3,600 meters altitude in an area 39 kilometers by 31 kilometers, identified by Russian Air Traffic Control as UUP-53 since 2005."

I can't figure out why I can't find more information on UUP-53, but it is a restricted piece of airspace over Moscow, restricted to all flights, and the Russians insist overflights stay above 3600m (11811 feet) to photograph.  Interestingly in the 2016 compliance report they have removed the statement that the United States *can* photograph UUP-53 at a higher altitude with an alternate panoramic camera, but other state parties don't have that camera in their sensor package (like Canada and the camera pod we use and share with other countries)
"Although the United States is able to obtain Treaty-allowed resolution imagery of the territory under UUP-53 airspace using its higher-altitude KA-91C panoramic cameras, weather permitting, its KS-87E framing camera is unable to achieve the Treaty-allowed resolution of 30 centimeters when operated above 3,600 meters. When flying on partner aircraft, the United States is unable to obtain Treaty-allowed resolution imagery within UUP-53." -2014 Report, US State Department
It is unclear to me why the framing camera is preferred over the panoramic camera, or if it is at all, but indeed there is no provision in the Open Skies treaty that would allow the Russians to impose a height restriction for an extended period over part of Moscow.  The Russians claim this is due to flight safety, as they do not have sufficient radar coverage at low altitudes in that area.  This reasoning seems rather sketchy.  Is this against the spirit of the agreement?  Maybe. I don't think it's a major issue, but I'm sure that could be argued.

US Objection #3b)

"...and below 5,100 meters altitude over Chechnya and nearby areas of southwestern Russia since 2002"

I'm not sure what other area in Southwest Russia this would be in reference to, but Chechnya is still a hot-spot, and the Russians claim for flight safety reasons flights below 5,100 meters are not allowed. As I understanding it, the purpose of the Open Skies Treaty is to ensure signatory state parties are not amassing weapons or troops on the border with other nations, or otherwise making preparations to go to war with their neighbours, or other countries.  Chechnya is a district of Russia that has had insurrections that have been put down forcefully by the Russian military, and is not suspected (that I've heard) of being a location where the Russians would be amassing an army to take over Georgia, for example, or any other area.  The only benefit of photographing this area is to see what military deployments the Russians have within the territory of Chechnya, and I'm not sure what the ultimate purpose of that would be.  Russia is not banning flights over Chechnya, but mandating the flights be higher.  It is effectively reducing the resolution of the imagery that can be taken; like making someone stand too far back when taking a portrait/bust picture.  Is this a sneaky way for the Russians to block the Americans from photographing Chechnya at a 30cm resolution?  It would be extremely sloppy of them to do so.  30cm imagery is available from US-based commercial satellite imagery providers, and if the US State Department was really concerned about the goings on in Chechnya, they could request the information from their own National Reconnaissance Office spy satellites which have cameras in space even more capable than 30 cm resolution.  However, if the Americans did use those spy satellites, they would be unable to share the imagery with their other signatory parties to the Open Skies treaty, due to the classification of the imagery.  So why does the United States want to photograph Chechnya?  Of course, the treaty doesn't require an explanation, and I doubt they would provide one.

US Objection #4)

"refused to provide air traffic control facilitation including by improperly invoking force majeure, for certain OST flights since 2011."

On day 1 of an overflight mission, even before the flight starts, the party doing the overflight tables a flight plan.  That flight plan is negotiated, agreed upon, and then executed.  Unless something comes up that endangers the plane, like a terrible storm, or volcanic eruption, the flight plan is supposed to be executed.  The Russians have called a "force majeure" during certain overflights using the excuse that it was due to a VVIP being present, on the ground, during the overflight of an area.  This seems to be an improper use of the term, since a convoy or whatever circumstance is going on, on the ground, would be a man-made, not a natural environmental hazard, and probably shouldn't have been used to divert the overflight.  Was this a ruse only because the Russians didn't want something photographed that they had not noticed on the flight plan originally?  Quite possibly.  Is this a reason to tear up the agreement or sanction Russia?  I don't think so.  The United States plays their own games, and Russia is playing theirs.

My view of this is American objections to Russian "restrictions" are being overblown by high-ranking military members and congress to achieve political gain, and quite disingenuously, since they have the technology and satellite imagery at their disposal to see everything, anywhere, at any time.

I do not believe there are many, or potentially any, military movements in the world that some level of the American Military is unaware of.  Clearly these issues need to be brought up with the OSCC, but the spin and vilification of Russian actions by elements of the American government isn't constructive, and only serves their political gain, rather than a rational discussion.
National Reconassance Office emblem for NROL-39
"Nothing is Beyond Our Reach"
ref: https://patriotpost.us/posts/22152
Credit to Deb Riechmann (AP) who inspired me to write this as a result of her syndicated coverage of the Open Skies Treaty at the end of February.

July 08, 2016

RIMPAC 2016 has a Russian shadow

The Pribaltika, a Balzam-class AGI - April 2016 - Vladivostok
Credit: forums.airbase.ru
RIMPAC 2016 is going on in Hawaii right now, with a large Canadian contingent taking part!

Two years ago the Chinese Navy was invited to bring their ships... and they sent an extra, a spy-ship (AGI) to "listen in" on the whole event, just outside of American waters.  Oh, those crafty Chinese!

I haven't heard anything about another Chinese AGI being spotted, yet, but the Russians weren't invited to RIMPAC 2016 (that's poor form guys!) so they showed up anyway, with their own "spy ship", the Pribaltika, a Balzam-class AGI.

In 2014 the Pribaltika was lurking around Alaska, listening to the fishies, or something.

I look forward to see how this pans out, as I noticed some of the Russian Navy's warships around the Kuril Islands (North of Japan), and they could easily have been headed East.  Anyone wonder where the Russian Navy Pacific Fleet Subs are hanging out?  I bet they're listening in too, nearby.