September 14, 2018

Georgia is blocking all Open Skies Treaty flights, unilaterally, and nobody will report on it.

Georgian Coat of Arms
I alluded to this in one of yesterday's blog posts, but there was little uptake, and it was buried in a Voice of America rant, so I'll spell it out again.

In 2012 the Georgian government published their intent to violate the Open Skies Treaty if they were ever given the chance. Due to their lengthy disputes with Russia over he regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Georgia unilaterally decided to prohibit any overflights by Russian Open Skies Treaty flights over their territory. There is no provision in the Open Skies Treaty that would allow that, for any reason. Russia requested, through the yearly routine quota allocation process, to overfly Georgia in 2018, because a spot was made available to them by another signatory who did not renew their overflights of Georgia setting up the Russian Federation for the request, Georgia refused to sign the entire 2018 flight quota; they did exactly what they said they'd do. All states have yearly quotas under the Open Skies Treaty; generally, the more you overfly, the more you're overflown. Below is a copy of the memo from the Georgian government and link to their web site. Regardless of what Russia has done, refusing all overflights of another country remains completely in contravention of the treaty, and is a massive escalation over denying flights along a 10 km x 250 km strip of land between Georgia and Russia. Russia justifies their 10 km x 250 km exclusion zone by their interpretation of the treaty, which does clearly state that a 10 km buffer between signatory and non-signatory countries should be maintained for Open Skies Treaty flight plans (which I explained previously). While the borders that Russia recognizes are different than the borders the United States, Georgia, and many other countries recognize, these are diplomatic issues that can be solved through diplomacy, and do not require halting an entire treaty unilaterally at the whim of one signatory.
Georgia Ceases Open Skies Treaty Vis-a-Vis Russia
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 2012-04-06 03:32

Georgia said it had ceased its obligations vis-à-vis Russia under the Open Skies Treaty, which allows its 34 participating states to gather information about each other's military forces through unarmed observation flights.
The move was in a response to Russia's decision two years ago to impose restrictions on flight path for aerial observation over its territory, in particular over the areas adjacent to Georgia's occupied regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Georgian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on April 5.
The treaty, which went into force in 2002, contains a clause according to which "the flight path of an observation aircraft shall not be closer than... ten kilometres from the border with an adjacent State that is not a State Party."
"Russia refused to allow the observation flights over its territory to fly within 10 kilometers of the occupied regions of Georgia, asserting that those regions constituted states, which were non-parties to the Treaty," the Georgian Foreign Ministry said. "The Russian Federation has deliberately and improperly restricted the right of all other States Parties under the Open Skies Treaty, denying them full territorial access to the Russian territory as required by the Treaty."
"It is obvious that the Russian Federation cannot unilaterally alter the geographical coverage of the multilateral Treaty by purporting to recognize a new entity on the territory of a State Party. Nor can Russia compel other States Parties to accept this illegal recognition [of Abkhazia and South Ossetia]," the Georgian Foreign Ministry said.
For two years, the Georgian Foreign Ministry said, Tbilisi had been trying in vain together with its partner states to make Russia "return to full compliance with the treaty obligations".
It also said that Georgia's decision to cease its obligations under the treaty in respect of Russia "means that Georgia will not allow any observation flights with the participation of the Russian Federation over the territory of Georgia and Georgia will not conduct observation flights over the territory of the Russian Federation."
The Foreign Ministry stressed that Tbilisi would continue fulfilling its obligations under the Open Skies Treaty with respect of all other participating states.
In November, 2011 following some NATO-member states Georgia too announced about stopping sharing military information under the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) with Russia; Moscow suspended its participation in CFE in 2007.
There is no reason for 32 signatory Open Skies Treaty countries to request flights that are within the 10km x 250km area that is contentious, and that is the most obvious way to avoid "illegal recognition" of the international boundaries of Georgia. That is the status quo, and what has been done with Crimea already, which completely lets the air out of Georgia's argument. You will notice that since Russia annexed Crimea, 33 signatory states have not asked Ukraine (or Russia) for permission to overfly Crimea. This is because the conflicts in Crimea, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia, have absolutely nothing to do with the Open Skies Treaty - and all the signatories understand that.

Let me venture you out on the limb where I'm sitting.

It was the United States made their quota available to the Russian Federation, the same quota that the Russian Federation is now using to request an overflight over Georgia. Georgia is blocking all Open Skies Treaty flights by all countries, including Russia over the United States, and all signatory nations, as they said they would do in 2012, if they ever got the chance, which the United States provided them.

In my view, the United States figured out how to kill the Open Skies Treaty and did so at the end of 2017, by proxy, through Georgia. Did they tell Georgia to do it, like a US-run puppet government? They didn't have to. Georgia said they would do exactly this in 2012.

The best part is, they got away with it. It's September and the 1st Western article to mention an "impasse" was published today by, owned by Sightline Media Group, and they still won't publish why or what this "impasse" is.


2018-09-15 Footnote:Thomas Moore suggested my understanding of what has prevented all Open Skies Treaty flights by all countries may not be accurate. I'm open to being proven wrong, but I'm still trying to figure out and reconcile what Mr Moore's interpretation is, what mine is, and how they intersect. With some luck, maybe the State Department will come clean and explain how for nine months they haven't mentioned the lack of Open Skies Treaty flights anywhere.

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