Russian plane flying over Estonia under Open Skies treaty
In an encouraging sign that at least some international treaties between Russian Federation and the West are still intact, a Russian plane is observing Estonia on Monday and Tuesday – with permission this time around.
The Russian flight is taking place under the Treaty on Open Skies, which entered into force in 2002 and currently has 34 participating states.
The treaty allows unarmed aerial surveillance flight sover the entire territory of its participants. It is 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.
Despite the recent widespread mistrust between Russian Federation and NATO allies, including Estonia, the Open Skies is still complied upon and it forms one of the most wide-ranging international efforts to date promoting openness and transparency of military forces and activities.
The Russian plane inspecting Estonia, an internationally certified An-30B, is equipped with digital sensors and carries 17 observers.
However, a few Estonian military officers are also on board, to ensure the aircraft will not fly off its predestined course.
It is not the first time. Russia has conducted the permitted flights since 2005 and so does Estonia – the Estonian Defense Forces officials last flew over Russia in April.
Despite the peaceful nature of the Open Skies flights, both Russia and NATO use the opportunity to gather information on troop movements and military assets. The planes usually fly at 9 kilometers high, but can drop as low as 3 kilometers to take photos of the area.
Imagery collected from Open Skies missions is available to any participating state upon request for the cost of reproduction.
The concept of "mutual aerial observation" was initially proposed to Soviet Premier Nikolai Bulganin at the Geneva Conference of 1955 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, but the Soviets rejected the concept. It was initiated again by President George H. W. Bush in 1989 and eventually accepted by Russia, entering force in 2002.