Russian aircraft to fly over US as part of Treaty on Open Skies obligations

Russian reconnaissance aircraft will fly over parts of the United States this week through Saturday as part of obligations for the Treaty on Open Skies, U.S. officials said.

It will mark the first Russian flights over the U.S. this year.

“The flight will be conducted with their treaty-certified Tu-154 aircraft equipped with electro-optical cameras, “Johnny Michael, a Pentagon spokesman, said in an email to Fox News. “The observation flight is expected to be completed and depart the United States around March 30, per Treaty timelines.”

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Russian officials said the flights will begin at an international airport in Great Falls, Mont., not far from a U.S. Air Force base where nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles are based.

The Russian observation aircraft can fly anywhere in a 3,000-mile radius from Montana under treaty obligations.

“The United States has conducted three treaty missions over Russia so far in 2019,” Michael added. “Per treaty procedures, the United States will inspect the aircraft and U.S. observers will be on board the Russian aircraft to monitor all phases of the observation flight over U.S. territory, to ensure Treaty compliance.”

The Treaty on Open Skies was established in 1992 to allow unarmed aerial observation flights over the territories of its 34-signatories to gather information about military forces and activities. The signatories include the U.S. and Russia.

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Officials said the timing of the flights has been “long-planned,” and is not meant to coincide with the results of the Mueller report. Special Counsel Robert Mueller did not find that President Trump’s campaign “conspired or coordinated” with the Russian government to influence the 2016 presidential election, knocking down arguments from Democrats who have claimed there was evidence of such collusion.