Russia has expanded its deployment of a missile system the U.S. says violates a 1987 treaty on intermediate-range nuclear forces, widening the differences with Washington over a pact the U.S. is expected to exit on Saturday, Western officials said.
The U.S. recently informed Western allies that Russia now has deployed four battalions of the 9M729 cruise missile, an increase from the three battalions Russia was said to have a few months ago, according to a senior Western official who is familiar with U.S. intelligence reports, Wall Street Journal reported.
Russia is said to have nearly 100 of the missiles, including spares, the official said. The development comes as the State Department is expected to announce Friday the U.S. will suspend its obligations under the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty on Saturday and begin the process to formally withdraw from it, the Journal adds.
Andrea Thompson, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs, who is leading U.S. efforts, said that “diplomacy is never done” but that Washington is likely to withdraw from the INF pact, CNBC writes.
“The Russians still aren’t in acknowledgment that they are in violation of the treaty,” Thompson told Reuters.
The withdrawal process takes six months, leaving open the possibility that Russia might yet reverse course and accede to U.S. demands to destroy the missiles and their launchers.
But after years of discussion between Washington and Moscow about the alleged violation, a change in the Russian position isn’t expected and American officials have already begun to consider what new intermediate-range missiles the U.S. can develop once the treaty is gone.
The missile system was first fielded in 2017, and its continued production and deployment shows the importance the Russians place on it, even as they have advocated resolving the U.S. allegations through diplomacy.
Russia has complained that a U.S. antimissile system in Romania also could be used to fire missiles banned under the INF treaty. Washington sees the allegation as an effort by Moscow to distract from its own cheating and has declined to let the Russians see the system.