A Russian military spy plane is making headlines on Thursday after it cruised the skies over Washington on Wednesday and plans to do more aerial sight-seeing over New York City and New Jersey. How do we know the plans of a Russian spy plane? Because the flight was strangely pre-approved by the U.S.
It turns out that the Russian plane was permitted to fly through the Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) under the Treaty on Open Skies, a 1992 agreement between 34 member nations which allows each country to conduct unarmed surveillance flights over the other’s territory, something the U.S. and Russia have done a combined 165 times during the past 15 years, according to the State Department.
The spy plane, Tupolev Tu-154M, flew near President Trump’s golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, at a low 4,000 feet, and then climbed to 5,000 feet before flying into New York airspace, two U.S. defense officials told Fox News. The spy plane was also seen flying over parts of Washington, D.C.
There have been more than 1,200 Open Skies flights since the treaty was enforced in 2002. According to the Pentagon, the flights are conducted by unarmed observation aircraft equipped with certain types of film and sensors that are certified under the treaty.
Designed to enhance mutual understanding and confidence by giving all participants, regardless of size, a direct role in gathering information about military forces and activities of concern to them, the Treaty on Open Skies is a wide-ranging international effort to promoting openness and transparency of military forces and activities.
The Pentagon says that before the flights, each state is given the flight plan of the mission and an escort team flies aboard the aircraft to make sure it complies with the treaty. After each flight, the host nation gets a copy of any imagery taken by the observation aircraft.
Dan Gaffney, a spokesman for the Pentagon, said a classic mission for one of these types of flights “has several segments (flights) taking place over a few days.”
The plane reportedly flew near Washington, D.C., but did not fly over the U.S. Capitol, according to Fox News.
The U.S. Capitol Police gave a heads-up to a potential flight over the Capitol between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. “This flight will be monitored by the U.S. Capitol Police command center and other federal government agencies,” the statement said.
However, senior U.S. intelligence and military officials have expressed concern that Russia is taking advantage of technological advances to violate the spirit of the treaty.
In past congressional hearings, Steve Rademaker, former assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Arms Control and the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, said that Russia complies with the Open Skies Treaty but has adopted measures that are inconsistent with the spirit of the accord.
For instance, each member country is required to make all of its territory available for aerial observation, yet Rademaker said Russia has imposed restrictions on surveillance over Moscow and Chechnya, and near Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two breakaway regions of Georgia now under Russian control.
Tensions have been rising between the two countries since Trump signed a new sanctions bill against Russia which will severely limit his own ability to provide any relief in easing the sanctions in the future.
Trump described the bill as “significantly flawed” and said it contained a “number of clearly unconstitutional provisions” that will “displace the president’s exclusive constitutional authority to recognize foreign governments.”
“My administration particularly expects the Congress to refrain from using this flawed bill to hinder our important work with European allies to resolve the conflict in Ukraine, and from using it to hinder our efforts to address any unintended consequences it may have for American businesses, our friends, or our allies,” he stated.
Senate Foreign Relations chairman Bob Corker said he spoke to the president about the bill in an effort to lessen his concerns. “I’ve walked the president through the process of how congressional review works,” Corker said. “The administration knowing that — unless it’s way out of bounds, — likely, they have the flexibility to do what they need to do.”
The sanctions bill also applies to North Korea’s shipping industry, nations that use slave labor, and includes penalties against Iran over its ballistic missiles program.
In response to the sanctions bill, Russian President Vladimir Putin excommunicated 755 U.S. diplomats from Russia.
According to Interfax, Putin commented about U.S.-Russian relations during an interview. “We waited for quite some time that maybe something will change for the better,” Putin reportedly said. “[We] had such hope that the situation will somehow change, but, judging by everything, if it changes, it will not be soon.”
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