MOSCOW — Russia said Friday that it was pulling out of a decades-old treaty that allowed countries to make military reconnaissance flights over each other’s territory, escalating its growing military competition with the United States and Europe just weeks before the incoming Biden administration will have to negotiate the extension of the central nuclear arms control treaty between the two countries.
The decision by President Vladimir Putin to leave the accord, the Open Skies Treaty, matches an action taken by President Donald Trump in May. While the treaty, which dates back to 1992, is of limited use to the United States, which has a network of spy satellites, it has been important to European allies as a way of keeping track of Russian troop movements along their borders.
When Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal, which was completed late last year, he predicted Putin was “going to come back and want to make a deal.” He did not. And Russia’s move signaled that the country did not intend to make it easy for the administration of Joe Biden to reverse Trump’s rejection of a series of arms control and military monitoring treaties.
The Russian announcement, if followed by an official notification to the other remaining parties in the treaty, starts a six-month clock toward final withdrawal. The notification would also require a meeting of all the signatories — including the European nations who are most concerned about Russian activity after its years of incursions into Ukraine — within 60 days.
But Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that U.S. allies did not appear willing to save the treaty by satisfying Russia’s demands in recent months that with the United States out of the treaty, they no longer pass along any intelligence gathered through it to Washington.
“The Russian side offered concrete proposals to sustain the treaty under new conditions that corresponded to its foundational provisions,” the Foreign Ministry said. “We are disappointed to note that they did not receive support from allies of the United States.”
But the announcement may also be viewed as an opening move in an intense initial encounter that is coming between Russia and the new Biden administration.
On Feb. 5, the New START nuclear arms control agreement expires, unless both governments agree to a five-year extension. That accord is the last major remaining limit on nuclear competition between the two countries; it restricts both nations to 1,550 deployed nuclear weapons each. Both Putin and Biden have said that, in principle, they want to invoke a provision of the treaty that allows for an extension of up to five years. Because that provision is contained in the original treaty negotiated by the Obama administration, it would not require a new vote in the U.S. Senate.
But it is unclear if Russia may introduce new demands. And Biden has promised that Russia will “pay a price” for its broad hacking of U.S. government agencies and corporations, revealed last month — meaning he will almost certainly be threatening the country with sanctions at a moment he is also negotiating the treaty extension.
Another complicating factor is that key members of Biden’s Cabinet may not yet be confirmed by the Senate in time for the negotiation. The task of dealing with Russia, therefore, will most likely fall to Jake Sullivan, the incoming national security adviser, who does not require Senate confirmation.
“I think our diplomats, before making this decision, became convinced that the United States’ return is extremely unlikely,” Fyodor Lukyanov, a foreign-policy analyst who advises the Kremlin, was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti state news agency. “This treaty did not figure among that which Biden wanted to change.”
The Open Skies Treaty, which has nearly three dozen signatories, was negotiated under President George H.W. Bush in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The treaty aimed to prevent military tensions from escalating into war by allowing former Cold War adversaries to fly over each other’s territories using planes equipped with sophisticated sensors.
While most modern-day military intelligence is gleaned through satellites, some information can only be gathered by airplane sensors. Perhaps most important, the treaty — which allowed specially designated U.S. military planes to roam deep into Russian airspace and vice versa — was a symbol of a determination to avoid war.
Long before the U.S. withdrawal last year, American officials complained that Moscow was violating the Open Skies accord by not permitting flights over Kaliningrad, the region where Russia was believed to be deploying nuclear weapons that could reach Europe, as well as forbidding flights over major Russian military exercises. Russia has denied violating the treaty and claimed that the United States had breached it.
The Foreign Ministry said Friday that it was starting the process of withdrawing from the agreement but had not yet officially notified the other signatories. Russia’s withdrawal had been anticipated in recent months, though Russian news reports as recently as this week said that the Kremlin was also considering a softer move: suspending Russia’s participation in the treaty rather than departing it altogether.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
© 2021 The New York Times Company
A friendly $100 wager over the 2020 presidential election has landed in a Florida small claims court.
A U.S. Army soldier has been arrested in connection with the death of a veteran and military spouse at Schofield Barracks on Oahu in Hawaii.
Selena Roth, a 25-year-old Army veteran and military spouse, is the victim, according to an Army statement posted online.
“On behalf of the Army community in Hawaii, I extend our deepest condolences to Selena’s loved ones,” said Maj. Gen. James Jarrard, the Army’s commanding general in Hawaii. “We are committed to the pursuit of justice, and those responsible will be held accountable.”
“I know many of us are still in shock,” Jarrard wrote. „Our priority is to continue to support the investigation and to ensure Selena’s family and our Army community receive the needed support and resources during this difficult time.”
Roth’s body was discovered after military police conducted a welfare check at the request of a family member, according to the Army statement. Special agents from the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) detained a suspect Wednesday evening.
Army spokespeople did not immediately respond to NBC News phone calls and emails requesting comment.
A Los Angeles man pleaded guilty Thursday to a misdemeanor count after his drone crashed into a police helicopter, prompting an emergency landing, federal prosecutors said.
It’s believed to be the first criminal conviction for unsafe operation of an unmanned aircraft in the nation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said in a statement.
Andrew Rene Hernandez, 22, of Hollywood, pleaded guilty to the single count in a plea agreement, according to court records.
He flew the drone just after midnight on Sept. 18 because he was curious after hearing a police helicopter and sirens, according to court documents.
The police helicopter with two officers inside was flying after a reported burglary at a nearby pharmacy, the documents say. The pilot saw the drone and tried to avoid it, but it hit the bottom of the helicopter. The chopper made an emergency landing at an airport.
A criminal complaint quotes an officer saying that if the drone had hit the helicopter’s main rotor, it could have brought down the helicopter.
Hernandez faces up to a year in prison when he is sentenced April 12, but a plea agreement says that prosecutors will recommend reductions in federal sentencing guidelines.
A federal public defender representing Hernandez did not immediately return a request for comment Thursday night. A phone number for Hernandez could not immediately be found.
Hernandez admitted to investigators that he operated the drone, according to a criminal complaint. He said the drone is hard to see at night, he looked down for a few seconds at the controller, and when he looked up he saw it was „smacked” by the hovering helicopter, according to the document.
While the conviction may be the first for unsafe operation of an unmanned aircraft in the U.S., it is not the first time someone has been charged with illegal acts involving a drone.
Public safety officials in Southern California have also warned about drone operations surrounding wildfires, which can delay or impact aerial firefighting operations.
Federal prosecutors said they “averted a crisis” at the Florida Capitol by arresting a man who threatened to violently confront protesters, as state law-enforcement officials prepared Friday for a possibly violent weekend and the governor activated the Florida National Guard.
The FBI has warned state and local officials about unrest between now and Inauguration Day, a potential spillover from last week’s violent assault on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters.
Although authorities have said they are not aware of any imminent threat toward the Capitol in Tallahassee, the arrest on Friday serves as a reminder of the potential violence that could unfold as political tensions run high nationwide.
U.S. Attorney Larry Keefe, a Trump appointee, announced Friday that Daniel Alan Baker was arrested on federal charges after issuing a call to arms for a violent attack on protesters on Sunday. Baker, a disgraced former U.S. Army soldier, identifies as a “hard-core leftist,” according to the criminal complaint filed by Keefe’s office.
According to the criminal complaint, Baker served in the U.S. Army in 2006 and 2007 in airborne infantry before receiving a less-than-honorable discharge. He went AWOL, the federal complaint said, before his unit was to deploy to Iraq.
From 2008 to 2017, the complaint said, Baker was unemployed and homeless in the Tallahassee area, occasionally working as a security guard. Baker joined a militia group in 2017 to fight against ISIS in Syria, federal prosecutors say. The militia group, People’s Protection Units, is a sub-affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization, prosecutors said.
“Extremists intent on violence from either end of the political and social spectrums must be stopped, and they will be stopped,” Keefe said in a news release.
Federal prosecutors say Baker began recruiting “like-minded individuals last October, as he made threats to those he claimed to be white supremacists and fascists.”
His threats escalated after the pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, according to the criminal complaint, and after the FBI warned of potential violence in Florida’s capital, leaving prosecutors to believe he was “an immediate threat during upcoming protests in Tallahassee.”
According to the criminal complaint, Baker issued a “call for arms January 20th!” and on Tuesday called on people to “fight back” against “armed racist mobs” at the Capitol in Tallahassee.
Baker is accused of concocting a violent ploy to trap protesters and police inside the Capitol building to later “drive them out of Tallahassee with every caliber available.” Prosecutors say they believe he was armed and that he was “actively attempting to purchase additional firearms” before Sunday.
He provided a specific location on where to meet in Tallahassee and asked backers of his plan to “NOT RSVP TO THIS EVENT” for security measures.
“JUST SHOW UP,” he wrote. “WE ARE CHAOTIC MAELSTROM OF WILLING HANDS.”
The arrest came as Florida law-enforcement agencies bolstered security measures in Tallahassee after the
FBI put them on notice about calls for “storming” government buildings in extreme right-wing online forums.
Tallahassee officials have closed City Hall and the county courthouse, which sits across the street from the Capitol building, to use in preparation for violent demonstrations. The city police department will be “fully staffed” through early next week, and as a precaution, the city canceled its annual Martin Luther King Day parade downtown on Monday.
Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson urged Capitol employees to work remotely on Sunday because of “very likely” protests. House Speaker Chris Sprowls has also told staff to stay home Sunday.
On alert for possible unrest, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which oversees Capitol police, has monitored the “national situation” throughout the week and has been working closely with federal, state and local officials to implement security measures, said FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger.
Mayor asks for troops
Tallahassee City Mayor John Dailey on Friday asked Gov. Ron DeSantis for help ahead of the weekend.
“Governor DeSantis, on behalf of residents and law enforcement in the capital city, I am asking you to do what only you have the power to do — call up and deploy Florida’s National Guard troops now,” Dailey, a Democrat, said at a press conference.
DeSantis did not make a formal request to activate the Florida National Guard to the Capitol until Friday night. In an executive order signed at 7 p.m., DeSantis moved to deploy troops to assist FDLE and local police in their efforts to “protect the state, its citizens, and public building and property from any potential civil unrest.”
The executive order took effect immediately and will remain in effect through Jan. 24.
DeSantis has not said much about the federal warning except to say the state would be prepared if protests take place.
“If anything is disorderly, we’re going to act very quickly. If there’s any type of disorder, we’ll have reinforcement there,” DeSantis said Tuesday.
Within local GOP circles, there is no active chatter about planned violent protests.
“None of the groups I’m involved in or interact with have anything planned. I have heard of nothing, but the rumors around town,” said Evan Power, the chairman of the Republican Party of Leon County, which includes Tallahassee.
A Herald/Times review of several Florida pro-Trump Facebook groups shows no calls for gatherings at the Florida Capitol in the coming days, although group members continue to fume by sharing far-right conspiracy theories about the election and call for vengeance for those who go against Trump.
“Time to punish the Republicans and Democrats who voted to impeach President Trump today,” one user wrote Wednesday, when Trump was impeached for the second time, this time for inciting a violent insurrection in the U.S. Capitol.
The FBI warning about possible unrest came five days after a pro-Trump mob swarmed the U.S. Capitol as lawmakers were certifying the Electoral College vote. The riot led to the deaths of five people and spurred Democrats to call for the president’s removal from office. President-elect Joe Biden is scheduled to be inaugurated on Jan. 20, with heightened security measures.
“The FBI received information about an identified armed group intending to travel to Washington, DC on 16 January,” the FBI bulletin read. “They have warned that if Congress attempts to remove POTUS via the 25th Amendment, a huge uprising will occur.”
On Wednesday, the FBI hosted a conference call with dozens of law enforcement agencies from Tallahassee to Miami where security information was shared on preparedness for possible unrest.
“We do not have any specific intelligence,” Tallahassee Police Chief Lawrence Revell told city commissioners on Wednesday. “But the national narrative is going around, and we are preparing and planning for that as well.”
“We have no specifics for our Capitol or for Tallahassee,” he added.