Documenting Russian Troops at Ukraine’s Borders Should Have Been a “Piece of Cake”
By: Christof Lehmann (nsnbc) :
There has been no shortage of allegations about the concentration of Russian troops along Ukraine’s borders, but purported evidence has been sparse, over-advertised and propagandized. Ironically, the U.S. has had the ability to legally launch overflights with observation aircraft under the 1992 Open Skies Treaty. Documenting the alleged troop concentrations would, in so many words, have been a “piece of cake”, but the Obama administration isn’t eating it.
In 1992, 34 nations, including Russia and the United States, signed the “Treaty on Open Skies“ that allows the signatories to launch unarmed aerial observation flights over the territory of the contracting parties. “The treaty was designed to enhance mutual understanding and confidence by giving all participants, regardless of size, a direct role in gathering information through aerial imaging on military forces and activities of concern to them”, states the U.S. State Department on its website.
Moreover, the State Department notes that Open Skies is one of the most wide-ranging international arms control efforts to date to promote openness and transparency in military forces and activities. It begs the question, why not use it in times of a crisis, when openness and transparency are most needed to resolve disputes and prevent a conflict.
Allegations about Russian troop concentrations along Ukraine’s borders were first levied by the post-coup government of Ukraine in April 2014. It is noteworthy that Ukraine is a signatory to the Open Skies Treaty and thus had the full right to launch overflights. Russia responded by offering Kiev inspection flights over the Russian side of the Russian – Ukrainian border. Ukraine launched multiple flights, without ever providing evidence about Russian troops concentrations. Documenting large Russian troops concentrations would, in so many words, have been a piece of cake.
Both Ukraine, the U.S. and other European and Northern American nations had ample possibility to document the alleged Russian troops concentrations from relatively low-flying aerial observation planes, using highly advanced photographic imagery and other technologies. One would, in other words, have been able to document the license plates, ID numbers and details that could help identify individual vehicles and other pieces of military hardware, if that was what one indented.
Instead, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Philip Breedlove, during a press conference in Paris, in April 2014, handed a set of low-resolution satellite images to Associated Press. Breedlove purported that these images were proof positive, documenting that Russia amasses 40,000 troops along Ukraine’s borders. AP quotes NATO’s top-commander for Europe as saying:
“What we see there is a force of about 40,000. … I would characterize it as a combined arms army. In other words, this is an army that has all of the provisioning and enablers that it needs to accomplish military objectives if given them.”
Ironically, it did not take long before the low-resolution images had been discredited as a propaganda stunt. The images were from the commercial satellite image provider Digital Globe. Moreover, the images showed a joint Russian – Ukrainian military exercise which had been held eight months earlier. The Russian General Staff responded, saying that “the images were taken some eight months before the stated date”. RIA Novosti quotes the General Staff official as saying:
“These shots, which were distributed by NATO, show Russian Armed Forces units in the Southern Military District, which in the summer of last year, were taking part in various drills, including near the Ukrainian border”.
This begs a number of questions, like why didn’t the U.S. State Department refute the statement that was issued by the Russian General Staff, but instead continued repeating the narrative that was based on the Digital Globe, commercial satellite images.
Hasn’t the USA access to better satellite images than those commercial, low-resolution photos? Or were low-resolution photos exactly what NATO’s and the Pentagon’s war planners had in mind as perfect, for pulling the wool over the eyes of the public?
Why not just “ask your Partner for Peace”? Most importantly, the situation begs the question why the U.S. administration didn’t have its Department of Defense contact colleagues in Moscow and say, that the U.S. would like to make use of the Open Skies Treaty and launch overflights; and by the way, they could have said, Kiev would like to take you up on your offer to let them launch flights over the border too and publish eventual findings.
Instead, the general public is presented a stack of eight months old Digital Globe images? If it wasn’t for the fact that the crisis in Ukraine has been turned into a deadly civil war, and if it wasn’t for the fact that a top-NATO commander disseminates false information to the public via apparently compliant or complicit media, it would have been the joke of the year. It wasn’t.
Russian monitoring flight in the U.S. The Russian National Center for the Reduction of Nuclear Threats (NCRNT) informed the Russian news agency Itar-Tass, that a group of Russian inspectors will begin a monitoring flight under the Open Skies Treaty in the United States. The monitors will be using a Tu-154M Lk-1, said Ruslan Rishin of the NCRNC, adding that:
“An observation flight at a maximum distance of up to 4,900 km will be made from September 21 to 29 from the Open Skies airfield at Wright-Patterson, Ohio”.
U.S. American specialists will be on board the plane to control how monitoring equipment was used and assuring that the overflight was made in accordance to the Open Skies Treaty. It is the 30th flight Russia makes over the territory of treaty signatories in 2014.
One cannot but speculate, how the U.S. public would respond if the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Russian Ministry of Defense published several months old, low-resolution Digital Globe images, purporting that the United States was planning to invade Mexico. and amassed 40,000 troops along the Mexican border.