Russia has expanded the number of its 9M729 missile battalions from three to four in recent months, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing an anonymous US official allegedly familiar with the intelligence documents. The alleged missile build-up is taking place as Washington raises questions about the 9M729, which, it claims, violates the INF Treaty. No US officials have commented on the report yet.
The report comes ahead of the announced American withdrawal from the missile accord that will take place on 2 February 2019. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave Russia six months to "return to compliance" with the treaty, before Washington completes the withdrawal process.
Washington claims that Moscow has violated the accord by developing the 9M729 (NATO reporting name SSC-8) missiles and testing them at ranges banned by the agreement. Russia has repeatedly denied the accusations, arguing that the 9M729 missile does not violate the accord. After being repeatedly accused of a "lack of transparency" in regards to the missile in question, Moscow held a briefing to present the missile and clarify its characteristics.
During the briefing, the Russian Defence Ministry revealed that the 9M729 has a maximum range of 480km, which is 10km shorter than its predecessor, meaning that it is in line with the INF Treaty. However, representatives of the US, UK, France, Germany, the EU and NATO did not attend the ministry's briefing on the missile.
The INF Treaty was signed by the Soviet Union and the US in 1987, and provides for the elimination of all nuclear-armed ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles, along with their launchers, that operate at ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometres.