Russia requested permission on Monday to fly a surveillance plane equipped with an advanced electro-optical imaging sensor over the US, despite objections from American officials. Both the US and Russia are signatories on the Open Skies Treaty, an international agreement that allows for unarmed observation flights over the entirety of the 34 member nations. The treaty was originally designed to increase the military transparency of member nations. However the US is arguing that Russia is exploiting the spirit of the treaty by using such advanced technology.
Russia's request of the Vienna-based Open Skies Consultative Commission comes at a time of heightened tensions between the two former Cold War rivals. "The treaty has become a critical component of Russia's intelligence collection capability directed at the United States," Adm. Cecil D. Haney, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, told the AP. "In addition to overflying military installations, Russian Open Skies flights can overfly and collect on Department of Defense and national security or national critical infrastructure." The Russians could easily exploit the data gathered from these flights, Haney argued.
What's more, Russia has recently declined to make all of its territory available for the same purpose. Moscow, Chechnya and the areas around Abkhazia and South Ossetia are all apparently off-limits despite the rules of the treaty.
On the other hand, we'll know exactly what the Russians are taking pictures of because the treaty stipulates that all images captured must be shared among the 34 member nations. Either way, the flights wouldn't be conducted until this summer, at the earliest, owing to the treaty's 120-day lead time.