My quick take on the joint Foreign Ministry/Ministry of defense briefing on the INF Treaty that took place in Moscow earlier today. As part of the event, Russia finally showed the 9M729 missile container and the launcher. It also released quite a few interesting details about the missile. As I suspected, 9M729 is a bit longer than 9M728 (although it's not quite a 8-meter missile). The cutout diagram showed that the difference 9M729 is virtually identical as far as the fuel tank, the engine, and the fuel system are concerned. According to Russia, 9M729 has a larger warhead and a different guidance system, which accounts for the 0.53-meter difference is length. As for the range, the claim is that 9M729 has a shorter range than 9M728 - 480 km vs. 490 km.

In my view, the briefing clarified a few issues and now the ball is in the U.S. court - if the United States wants to insist that it has strong evidence of the violation, it should say explicitly where Russia is wrong.

The key statement, made at the briefing by Gen.-Lt. Matveyevskiy, the chief of the Rocket Forces and Artillery, was that

all tests of surface-to-surface missiles [at the test site conducted in 2008-2014] were conducted to a range that is less than the INF Treaty limit.

That is a very strong statement (an obvious exception was made for ICBM tests). It's worth recalling that the U.S. case is built on a statement that even though the 9M729 missile has indeed never been tested to more than 500 km from a mobile launcher, it was tested "to distances well over 500 kilometers (km) from a fixed launcher." If the United States stands by this statement, it should say directly what Russia is not telling us about its tests.

One immediate possibility is that there were tests to distances over 500 km from Kapustin Yar during that period. For example, Russia must have tested the Kalibr SLCM somewhere. Naval missiles were not included in the table shown at the briefing, so it is not clear if they are covered by Matveyevskiy's statement. SLCMs are definitely surface-to-surface missiles, but the Russian term Matveyevskiy used was "earth-to-earth." As I understand, that is the term that is used to refer to naval missiles as well, but it's hard to say if that usage was deliberate in this case. "Surface-to-surface" is also used in Russian when necessary. But whatever term was used, U.S. position is not that Russia used a SLCM test to make a judgement about range of 9M729. The statement was stronger - it was the 9M729 that was tested from a fixed launcher. If that is the case, the United States should state clearly that the "all tests were under 500 km" statement is incorrect.

Another possibility is that the fixed-launcher test took place somewhere else, so Matveyevskiy is technically correct when he says that no missiles there were tested to the INF range. I think this possibility is unlikely, since the coordinates of the test site that were shown on the slides - 48.774, 46.31 - were probably the ones that the United States gave to Russia at some point. And Matveyevskiy statement seems to cover the entire Kapustin Yar test range, not just that particular launch pad.

What about a test outside of Kapustin Yar? I don't think it's likely. As far as I can tell, the only test sites declared in the INF are Kapustin Yar and Plesetsk (the treaty lists this site in Kapustin Yar and the Launch Complex 132 as the "Research and development launch sites"). Testing an SLCM outside of these declared range would be a separate violation of the treaty, although it's possible that Russia added a new "SLCM test range" later on. In any event, if the fixed-launcher test of 9M729 took place outside of that specific launch complex or outside of the Kapustin Yar site, the United States should have no problem pointing that out.

[UPDATE 1/25/2019: Yes, I think we can exclude a test outside of Kapustin Yar. In his statement, DNI Coats said that the missiles were "tested from the same site." My guess that it's exactly the site at 48.774, 46.31 that Russia showed on the slide.]

Unfortunately, I don't expect the United States to make any statements of this kind - it is likely to stick to its talking points and insist that Russia has presented no new or convincing evidence. Which is not really the case. The briefing did provide new information and it is now up to the United States to demonstrate that its case remains strong. If that case is indeed strong, of course.

It's actually quite simple. The United States should call on Russia and say, No, that's not correct when you say all launches were under 500 km. Or, yes, all tests from that launch site were under 500 km, but we told you that the fixed-launcher test took place elsewhere. Someone should ask U.S. officials to make a statement along this lines. That would be a useful contribution to the discussion.