Yesterday, three drone ships supplied by the West attacked a Russian ship guarding the Turkstream pipeline. Russia claims they were all destroyed, but there is video that suggests one hit the Russian ship. This attack is the latest in a series of events over the past three weeks in which Ukraine has targeted targets in Russia with weapons supplied by the US and Britain. In addition to this maritime drone strike, Ukraine carried out the following:
- A cross-border incursion into the Belgorod region using US-supplied vehicles and weapons. The attack was repulsed with heavy Ukrainian casualties.
Sporadic launching of artillery and mortar attacks on Russian civilian towns along the border.
- A drone strike on the Kremlin.
- The use of British Storm Shadow cruise missiles to hit targets in Russia.
None of these attacks are “game changers” in terms of the strategic picture, but they fuel a rising tide of anger in Russia that is likely to increase pressure for a stronger military response. The attack on the Russian ship guarding the Turkstream pipeline is particularly perplexing because it is an indirect attack on a NATO member (namely Turkey). Just what NATO needs, alienating the NATO member with the second largest army in NATO.
According to the Front News, the mainstream media rules out the possibility that the attack was sanctioned by the US or the UK and suggests that the attack was carried out by Ukraine without consulting its NATO partners. However, my new friend, Steve Bryen , has published an excellent piece in the Asia Times about the Turkstream pipeline incident, explaining why this was not a unilateral Ukrainian operation:
There are some disturbing facts about this operation.
The first is that the Ukrainians were preparing an attack on the Turkstream pipeline and had to knock out the Russian ship that helped guard the pipeline. Turkstream transports natural gas with an annual capacity of 31.5 billion cubic meters and consists of two offshore pipelines of 930 kilometers and two separate onshore pipelines of 142 kilometers and 70 kilometers in length.
One of the buyers of Russian gas from this pipeline is Hungary. The destruction of Turkstream would deal a heavy blow to Hungary, which could lead to upheaval in that country. Hungary, under Viktor Orbán, is considered pro-Russian by Washington.
The Ukrainians conducted this operation in the Bosphorus, about 140 km from the Turkish mainland. It is fair to say that this attack was not just against the Russians, but it was the first part of an attack against a NATO ally, Turkey and other gas consumers, especially Hungary – also a NATO ally.
The great distance to Ukraine itself suggests that Ukraine would have needed real-time intelligence to locate and target the Russian ship.
Here comes the disturbing part. A US RQ-4 intelligence aircraft was reportedly located in the vicinity of this incident. The RQ-4 could have provided target information in real time and relayed the same information to the Ukrainian unmanned naval drone. While there is no hard evidence that the RQ-4 played a role, how else could Ukraine have led this operation?
The United States and the rest of NATO feign ignorance of the attack, but the main fact is that Ukraine needed target data that only NATO intelligence sources could provide. This means that the United States played a direct role in this attack. If you add this incident to the cross-border incursion into the Belgorod region, where US-supplied vehicles carried out the attack, Russia can only conclude that the United States is increasingly involved in the war against Russia.
This is a dangerous escalation in the war and Russia is unlikely to dismiss it as insignificant. In addition to the maritime drone strike, two US B-1 bombers flew into the Baltic Sea close to Russian airspace and were intercepted by Russian fighter jets. Add to that the recent U-turn of Biden giving the go-ahead to send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine and the late 2022 deployment of elements of the 101st and 82nd airborne units to Poland and Romania, respectively. Those troops are still there.
Russia is also closely watching the upcoming NATO exercise Air Defender 23 :
Air Defender 23 will be the most important military exercise ever over European airspace. The exercise will take place from 12 to 23 June and involves the air forces of 25 countries.
More specifically, Air Defender 23 is the most comprehensive air force exercise in the history of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, better known as NATO. Up to 10,000 participants will take part in this unprecedented event, training their flying skills on approximately 220 aircraft. The military exercise takes place in European airspace and under the command of the German Air Force, or Luftwaffe.
While NATO may pretend this is just a routine exercise, against the backdrop of heightened tensions in the region, a “training operation” of this size and scale is akin to lighting a match in a petrol storage tank. It increases the likelihood that the war in Ukraine will expand into a full-blown conflict with NATO.
It appears that the United States is ready to take more desperate, ill-advised actions in the aftermath of Ukraine’s defeat at Bakhmut. Washington makes no gesture of appeasement. Just the opposite – more belligerent rhetoric and actions.
Russia, for its part, is not standing still. In the early hours of Friday, Ukrainian TG channels reported attacks by UAVs and aerial bombers in the Sumy, Chernigov and Zapozhye regions, as well as in the Dnepropetrovsk region. Explosions were also reported this evening in the Koepjananskiy district of the Kharkov region. Yesterday, Russia hit the dam of the Karlovskoye Reservoir, which is located 40 km northwest of Donetsk and is a critical supply route for Ukrainian forces in the Donetsk region. This makes it more difficult for Ukraine to supply its troops on the eastern side of the Volcha River and creates more obstacles for Ukraine to overcome if it is to launch a successful counter-offensive.
It appears that the three-week long Russian bombardment – with strategic bombers – is taking a toll on the troops Ukraine has assembled for its long-awaited counter-offensive. Ukrainian losses make it difficult to muster the manpower and firepower needed to launch an offensive operation and sustain it for more than a few days. We’ll know for sure in the coming weeks.
I will put it simply: we are living in the most dangerous time in world history since the beginning of World War II. The United States shows no sign of backing down from its efforts to keep the war going in Ukraine in the vain hope of weakening Russia. And Russia is stepping up its operations to decimate Ukraine’s military capabilities. This seems like a poisonous recipe for a terrible collision. I hope I’m wrong.