Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 5

After decades of Soviet-era security paranoia, many Russians remain far more sensitive to matters of espionage — suspected or real — than do most Europeans. The arrest of Richard Bliss (see preceding item) is a case in point. The case against Bliss seems to rest on the fact that he was using a hand-held satellite positioning device to help determine his exact position as he worked on installation of a cellular phone system in the Rostov region. While the initiative taken by Bliss might be praised in the West, some in Russia evidently suspect he was more interested in providing accurate targeting data for nuclear missiles than in improving Russian phone service.

Similar suspicions seem to be holding up Russian ratification of the 1992 Open Skies Treaty. Originally negotiated by the then members of NATO and the Warsaw Pact, the treaty now has a total of 27 state parties. More than the required 20 countries have ratified it, but the treaty cannot enter into force until all 10 of the largest signatories approve it. Of this group, Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine continue to drag their heels.

In today’s world of satellites, the treaty is a benign one. It provides for relatively short notice aerial inspections anywhere on a participant’s territory, but the types of sensors allowed are not very sophisticated and the "observed" country can, if it wishes, even provide the airplane and equipment to be used during the overflight. No electronic surveillance — such as recording radar signals or radio or telephone communications — is allowed.

While waiting for the treaty to enter into force, a number of the signatories have made "practice" flights over each other’s territory. Last July, Russia conducted its first test over the U.S., and the following month the Americans used a Russian plane in a test over Russia. Russians have made similar reciprocal gestures with Belgium, Germany, and Turkey. On the whole, the Russian military seems reasonably comfortable with the treaty. The same, however, cannot be said for some former officers. Retired Gen. Albert Makashov — now in the State Duma — last September demanded that lawmakers conduct an investigation to find out why "U.S. aircraft [were] already flying over Russia." (Russian media, September 19, 1997). The Open Skies Treaty has also been a hostage in the NATO-enlargement debate, with Russian opponents including it among the several arms control measures that would be put on hold should NATO expand.

Many Russian hard-liners feel that the treaty was disadvantageous for Russia from the beginning. Some are also not above stretching the truth to make their arguments more convincing. Thus, last month’s issue of Megapolis-Continent contained a diatribe against the treaty which charged that Russia would not be able to conduct surveillance flights "on the territories of NATO member-states that did not sign the Treaty," while NATO could take a look at "all the military objects on Russian territory." In fact, all 16 NATO members have signed and ratified the treaty, as have the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. Hinting that NATO would also use treaty flights for industrial espionage, the author concluded that "Russia is clearly not ready for such openness." Sadly, that assessment is probably an accurate one.

Ulmanis Calls for Real Action on National Defense.