Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., on Tuesday called for the U.S. to pull out of the Open Skies Treaty with 34 other nations because "it gives Russia a spying capability it wouldn't otherwise possess, which jeopardizes U.S. security."
"Russia is not a good-faith actor," Cotton, a member of the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence committees, said in an op-ed in The Washington Post. The accord, signed in 1992 has been "abused by Moscow for maximum advantage."
Cotton and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, introduced a resolution in October to withdraw from the treaty.
The treaty seeks to allow "unarmed and unobstructed observation flights over both Russian and NATO territory," Cotton said, but the Kremlin "has breached the treaty for years by imposing limits on U.S. flights while suffering no such restrictions itself.
"In other words, 'open skies for me, closed skies for thee,'" the senator said.
Under the agreement, nations can fly specialized aircraft over other countries and photograph existing facilities, construction, and troop movements.
"These overflights are intended to build trust and transparency among our countries," Cotton said. "These rules ensure that signatories can't hide military buildups or other sensitive projects."
But Moscow "allows only limited overflights of areas where it is engaged in covert military operations," the senator said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin "is free to send his spy planes over U.S. military installations or over [President Donald] Trump's retreat in Bedminster, N.J., while restricting U.S. flights over his own territory."
U.S. participation, Cotton argued, is "redundant" because "we have the most advanced reconnaissance capabilities of any country, including satellites that can capture images on short notice anywhere on the planet."
These include Kaliningrad, Moscow's "heavily fortified Baltic Sea enclave deep inside NATO territory" and the Russia-Georgia border, where Russian troops covertly assist separatist forces," he said.
"What a strange coincidence that Russia denies Open Skies flights over the very areas where those flights would be useful," he said.
Pulling out of the treaty would allow the U.S. to use the money spent on it to upgrade the "combat effectiveness and survivability of U.S. troops," Cotton argued.
"The Open Skies Treaty is a slow drain on U.S. resources and a spying coup for a key adversary," the senator concluded. "It's time to close American skies to Russian spies."
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