by William Schryver
I have written many times over the past two years about what is arguably the single most important component of US/NATO military involvement in the Ukraine War: its Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) assets that have been omnipresent on the battlefield from the very beginning.
I have frequently expressed my expectation that the Russians would eventually feel compelled to “do something about it”.
Up until now the most they have done is down an MQ-9 surveillance drone over the Black Sea, by the novel method of buzzing it with an Su-27, dowsing it with jet fuel, and possibly even giving it a wingtip nudge.
But the serious platforms — the RQ-4 unmanned drones and the various crewed jets packed with electronic gadgetry — have been permitted to operate more or less unhindered.
Or at least we can say none have been shot down yet.
We are not privy to the knowledge of how successful the Russians have been so far in developing effective countermeasures to NATO ISR.
Of course, these aircraft are flying either in “international airspace” or (primarily) in the airspace of Romania and Poland.
That said, this is war. And little diplomatic niceties like “protected airspace” lose their meaning in war. If you don’t believe me, review the history of what the United States, Britain, and Israel (among others) have done over the course of the past several decades.
There is no court in this world that can adjudicate, let alone enforce its judgments upon nations at war. Only the victors get to designate and hang the guilty when the cannons fall silent.
By any reasonable logic of conflict, the Russians would be well within their natural rights to strike back at the US/NATO ISR assets that have played such an essential role in several damaging attacks against them — in most cases directly providing requisite intelligence, surveillance, targeting data, and even real-time guidance to NATO-provided (and often NATO-operated) weapons intended to kill Russians.
So why hasn’t Russia forcibly eliminated this paramount element of the military force arrayed against it?
The primary answer is undoubtedly that they have made a firm strategic decision to carefully manage the escalation of this conflict from the relatively confined borders of a proxy war in eastern Ukraine to a regional or global conflagration that could conceivably put in play the risk of a major nuclear exchange.
That, of course, is inarguably a very prudent strategic judgment.
On the other hand, this war — against almost all expectation around the world — has revealed the acute weaknesses inherent in what was previously imagined to be “full-spectrum” American military dominance.
Simultaneous to this exposure of the myth of American military supremacy, it has conversely been revealed that the Russians are considerably more than “a gas station with nukes”. Anyone who does not by now recognize the degree to which Russian military, economic, and industrial power has grown over the course of this war is either embarrassingly ignorant or blinded by mindless prejudice.
Consequent to these developments, the Russians have been waxing increasingly bold in both their rhetoric and their publicly proclaimed objectives.
Foremost among those increasingly explicit objectives is that Russia regards itself, Belarus, and much of the Ukraine as one people and one nation, and they fully intend to return to what they consider the status quo ante.
In my estimation, this objective is one that has now become “non-negotiable” for the Russians. According to whatever timetable they have established, they will eventually move to militarily subdue and politically subsume everything east of the Dnieper River, as well as the Black Sea coastal regions all the way to the Danube, including Transnistria.
They will very likely also move to secure a “demilitarized zone” that reaches much further west than the Dnieper, and demand “neutrality in perpetuity” for whatever Ukrainian rump-state remains.
And when the realization of this objective draws nearer and nearer to being a fait accompli, we can be almost certain that the empire and its obeisant European vassals will do something stupid, and bring to pass some level of direct warfare between them and the Russians.
If and when that happens, then we will see the Russians finally move decisively against the US/NATO ISR assets in the region. And they will do so with at least two full years of battlefield experience, careful observations of its weaknesses, and competent adaptation and innovation cultivated by that analysis.