On January 23, the Russian Defense Ministry displayed in an Expo Center in Moscow its new 9M729 missile -- claiming, contrary to U.S. assessments, that its characteristics do not violate the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). Russia said the range of the 9M729 does not exceed the 500-kilometer range allowed by the INF Treaty, which was signed between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union 1987 and meant to eliminate an entire class of nuclear weapons.
The Russian Defense Ministry also reported that more than 100 missile launches were conducted over the six years from 2008 to 2014 at the Kapustin Yar missile range in southern Russia.
Zvezda, the Defense Ministry’s official TV channel, quoted Lieutenant-General Mikhail Matveyevsky, commander of the Russian military’s missile and artillery forces, indicating that some of these launches in fact exceeded the INF Treaty’s 500-kilometer range limit. Matveyevsky said Russia had notified the U.S. of those launches.
Moscow had previously categorically denied U.S. accusations that it had violated the INF Treaty, insisting that Washington had “failed to provide proof.” On January 17, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov repeated the claim, saying that the 9M729 system “has never been tested for a range banned” by the treaty.
However, Ryabkov’s claim is contradicted by Matveyevsky’s statement.
Russia has until February 2 to comply with U.S. demands and destroy the 9M729 missile system if Moscow wants to save the INF Treaty. That deadline was announced by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said in Brussels on December 4 that Washington would start a six-month process to formally withdraw from the INF Treaty if Russia did not return to compliance with the treaty terms within 60 days.
“We must control Russian cheating on its arms control obligations,” Pompeo said, calling Russia’s approach a “flagrant disregard for the express terms of the INF Treaty.”
Also on December 4, NATO foreign ministers said in a statement that the U.S. “has remained in full compliance” with the INF Treaty. They said that Russia responded to concerns about the 9M729 missile system over the past five years “with denials and obfuscation.”
On January 15, U.S. and Russian officials met in Geneva to try and reach an agreement, but both sides said the attempt was a failure. Russia offered to allow the U.S. to inspect Moscow’s new missile but Washington rejected the proposal, stating that such an inspection would not reveal the true potential of the 9M729 and demanding instead that Russia destroy it.
U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson said the inspection of the missile would not allow the U.S. to “confirm the distance that missile can travel.”
In November 2018, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats briefed the U.S. Congress on Russia’s INF violations, stating the U.S. assessed that Russia had “flight-tested, produced and deployed” cruise missiles with a range capability prohibited by the INF Treaty. Coats said Russia began the “covert development” of the 9M729 missile in the mid-2000’s, completing a “comprehensive flight test program” by 2015.
Coats alleged that Russia conducted the program in a way “purposefully designed to disguise the true nature of their testing activity as well as the capability of the 9M729 missile.”
According to a U.S. Congressional report submitted on January 18, the range of the Russian 9M729 missile is “well over” the 500 kilometers permitted by the INF Treaty.
Coats explained that if Russia deployed the 9M729 missile only from a fixed launcher, as a sea-based or air-delivered cruise missile, that would be compatible with the INF Treaty even with ranges exceeding 500 kilometers. Instead, Russia tested the same missile from a mobile launcher.
“By putting the two types of tests together,” Coats said, Russia developed an INF-range missile that could be launched from a “mobile-ground” platform.
The resulting 9M729 missile system is in violation of the terms of the INF Treaty, under which the sides agreed “not to possess, produce, flight-test a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 500 kilometers to 5,500 kilometers, or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.”
The latest developments followed an announcement by President Donald Trump in October that the U.S. would leave the 1987 treaty. The announcement took U.S. allies in Europe by surprise. Pompeo, the U.S. secretary of state, later said the 60-day deadline came at the request of European allies.