Declassified Open Skies Treaty mission reports show over a decade of diplomacy and cooperation.

The documents, retrieved using Canada’s Access to Information Act, show over a decade of treaty flights; with no sign of Boris or Natasha.

One of the December 2015 Open Skies Treaty flight legs as proposed by the Russian Federation while conducting an observation mission over Canada

The following memo was sent from the government of the Russian Federation to all signatories of the Open Skies Treaty, and has never been publicly published before, in the original Russian, or English translation. I requested the DND-provided response to my request under the Access To Information and Privacy act in 2016, and finally got a response in 2020 — surprise!
At least they sent it, right?

Like all messages between signatories, it is template-based. This message was sent January 13th 2016, regarding December 18–23 2015 Open Skies Treaty mission over Canada.

“From: Russian Federation
To: To all participating countries.

Subject: Mission Report on Observation Flight

(…)

6. Remarks: Russian representatives express gratitude to Canadian accompaniment group for their hospitality.
(per this or that ad-hoc translation)

7. End of OS Message Number OS/RU/15/0338/F14/O”

source

That memo was sent to all signatories, and includes where all the pictures were taken, using Russia’s previously installed wet-film camera certified unanimously by all Open Skies Treaty signatories. It shows the flight path, it shows all the dates and times, and as a collection of all flight information, briefs all countries on what transpired and where.

Sample of the required open skies treaty paperwork submitted by the Russians in 2015.

If you ask for the RCAF to give you their take on things, in case anything went on that didn’t have a place in the form, you can get that too. Like this tidbit from that same flight in December 2015.

“3.h. Cultural Program. Although not initially planned, the bad weather day permitted a local orientation visit in Kingston (..) due to the anticipated long crew day for segment two on 22 Dec 15, the formal mission dinner was held in Trenton on 21 Dec 15”

During that week, due to weather, and runway closures at Halifax, the schedule was modified by mutual agreement; the crew would over-stay the treaty maximum allowed time, for flight safety, and fly home Monday, a day late. This wasn’t a problem, and the Canadian team stated in the report “these requests were reasonable and in the spirit of the Treaty and were therefore accepted as a whole by the (Canadian Team Lead)”. This all seems very accommodating, level headed, and not confrontational at all — because that’s the truth. The Open Skies Treaty provides a useful face to face meeting between senior Canadian and Russian Air Force officers, as well, we get to overfly Russia and see things for ourselves, just as they get to overfly Canada, and assure themselves we are not massing an invasion force, or whatever they want to look at. The Canadian Forces assessed in December 2015, in their report, they believed the Russians were looking at “military/transport and industrial (facilities)”, and flew for 5375 km, just under the treaty maximum of 5400 km. This is perfectly normal, and no reports say anything about the Russians abusing their overflight rights under the Open Skies Treaty.

Similar praise is frequently repeated by the Canadian team at the end of Russian Federation overflights.

192130ZMAY06 (May 19, 2006)
“6. Remarks
(…)
I. Canada Sincerely thanks the team from the Russian Federation/Republic of Belarus for their excellent cooperation, professionalism, and hospitality.

That’s right, if you request more than ten years of these types of reports you might start to see a trend. Trust me, because I did just that, and will share them all with you so you can scrutinize them too. Better still…

Go request the Canadian Open Skies Treaty data yourself:

If you are a Canadian resident that qualifies to request information under the act, you should ask DND via the Access to Information and Privacy Act for a copy of the super-set of the information I have linked below from my inquiries over the years. Specifically, I recommend you ask for

  • All post-mission reports, including any flight plan maps showing flight plans in colour, both proposed and adopted. Include all messages sent from the Russian Federation using Open Skies Treaty message formats regarding every Open Skies Treaty flight flown by the Russian Federation over Canada; ie, everything about all #OpPASSIVESKIES flights from January 1 2002 to present day.
  • All post-mission reports, including any flight plan maps, including those proposed and adopted, for flights conducted under the Open Skies Treaty that Canada performed over the Russian Federation; ie everything about all #OpACTIVESKIES flights from January 1 2002 to present day.
  • All flight plans of the Russian Federation as flown over Canada in a digital format, preferably KML or KMZ, showing the swath of imagery taken.
  • All flight plans of RCAF flights over the Russian Federation and Belarus in a digital format, preferably KML or KMZ, showing the swath of imagery taken.

All of the above mentioned information is available and stored by DND SJS ACV, and can be provided to you if you ask. If they are confused, refer to previous ATIP requests; A-2016–00590, A-2016–00589, and A-2015–01490 so they know what they’re looking for.

Same story for my friends in the United States (or any country that is a ratified signatory of the Open Skies Treaty), the USAF/DTRA/State Department all have access to the same information, and you should absolutely ask them about the same things, and demand the records through the Freedom of Information Act. There are no exceptions that allow State, DTRA, or the USAF from providing the flight plans or mission reports to the public— only the imagery has a FOIA exception. Do not let them say no, blocking your FOIA request is illegal.

Open Skies Treaty mission reports are very dry and wordy, and the declassified reports are extremely informative, putting to rest any suggestion that the Russians are abusing their treaty rights. If they were, it would have come up in these reports that date back to 2004.

References:

  • RCAF #OpPASSIVESKIES post-mission report re: Russian Federation overflight in December 2015.
    (dropbox link to 46 page PDF)
  • Over ten years of RCAF #OpPASSIVESKIES post-mission reports regarding Russian Federation flights over Canada.
    (dropbox link to 392 page PDF)
  • Over ten years of RCAF #OpACTIVESKIES Open Skies Treaty Format 14 template-derived forms required at the end of every mission over the Russian Federation, including comments and coordinates where pictures were taken and flights were flown.
    (dropbox link to 302 page PDF)

Steffan Watkins is a open source research consultant interested in the Open Skies Treaty and its implementation, among other things. #OpenSkiesTreaty

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store