Alexander Ziperovich

Alexander Ziperovich is a Political analyst and Opinion columnist. He writes about politics, justice, foreign affairs, and culture, dissecting the larger historical and social context behind important events.

Russia & U.S. Clash in the Sky: Officially Enter World War III?

4 mins read

The relationship between Washington and Moscow is already near the breaking point, and early this morning, risked spinning entirely out of control, when a pair of Russian jets first harassed and then attacked an unarmed American MQ-9 Reaper surveillance drone flying over the international waters of the Black Sea. The two Su-27 fighters dumped fuel on the drone, apparently trying to blind its sensors, before colliding with its propeller, bringing the $32 million piece of military hardware crashing down to the water below.

Predictably, Russia’s Ministry of Defense offered a different account of what took place, saying the drone’s own maneuvers caused it to rapidly lose altitude and crash. In any event, it was the first documented physical clash between the armed forces of the United States and Russia resulting from the war in Ukraine, a perilous precedent that should give everyone some pause.

Apparently, these kinds of high-altitude confrontations between the U.S. and Russia are “not an uncommon occurrence,” according to John Kirby, the National Security Council spokesman. Still, Kirby acknowledged this incident as “noteworthy because of how unsafe and unprofessional it was,” to say nothing of how the “reckless” attack further inflames an already tense atmosphere, and adds to the danger of a direct clash between the United States and Russia.

Notably, the U.S. and Russia had no communication during the incident, and thus no way to deescalate, or express intentions. Afterward, the Russian ambassador in Washington was summoned to receive formal American objections to the attack, which Ned Price at the State Department called a “brazen violation of international law.” 

Certainly, incidents like these add to the grave risk of mistakes and miscalculations between the two nuclear powers, and the danger of unintended escalation, with all that entails. Relations between Moscow and Washington are already at an all-time low, amid Vladimir Putin’s catastrophically botched invasion of Ukraine, and Joe Biden’s arming of Kyiv, and it likely wouldn’t take much to send things spiraling further downward.

The danger of accidental escalation is real

The aerial run-in merely reinforced the sense that any errant spark could lead to serious and unintended consequences, a complete rupture in relations, and the possibility of armed conflict. The downed Reaper was unmanned; what if it had been a manned surveillance flight, and the U.S. incurred casualties as a result of Russian aggression? 

Clearly, it would be a different story, and an incredibly dangerous one.

Still, the White House seemed keen not to allow the incident to devolve into a tit-for-tat cycle of mutual escalation, and apparently resisted calls to respond with military force. As New York Times reporter David Sanger said on CNN today, the White House wanted to respond “calmly,” and avoid the prospect of unintended escalation, particularly because the drone was unmanned.

Nonetheless, it’s clear, Sanger said, that the Russians have a mounting appetite to take on the Americans on the sidelines of the war in Ukraine, even as Russia struggles desperately on the battlefield. Russia’s recent offensives in Bakhmut and elsewhere have resulted in meager territorial advances, and at a staggering cost in human life, particularly the life of Russian conscripts and mercenaries, who have been engaged in suicidal assaults to inch forward against Ukraine’s fortified defenses. 

After losing an estimated 200,000 casualties and counting in its disastrous campaign to subdue and absorb Ukraine, the Kremlin has increasingly characterized the war as an existential conflict between Russia and the United States. Incidents like the one today show the danger of that notion coming to fruition, in what would be an apocalyptic nuclear confrontation humanity would be unlikely to survive, should one begin.

A light in the darkness for Putin

Meanwhile, favorable developments amid early presidential posturing have given Vladimir Putin something to smile about, as presidential frontrunner Gov. Ron DeSantis went on Tucker Carlson’s show and argued that defending Ukraine was not in America’s vital national interest. He referred to Putin’s wanton aggression as a “territorial dispute,” and made it clear that if elected, American aid to Ukraine would quickly evaporate.

Clearly, the Florida governor is aligning himself with Donald Trump’s isolationist MAGA bent, even as he prepares to take on the former president for the Republican nomination in 2024, as Trump faces the prospect of criminal indictments.

DeSantis’s view stands in sharp contrast to many of the elected leaders of the Republican Party, and provoked a round of heated criticism from Marco Rubio, Lyndsey Graham, Liz Cheney, Mitch McConnell, and other leading lights in the GOP, who have argued that the United States should be doing even more for Ukraine, and certainly not less.

However, Ron DeSantis has always fashioned himself in Trump’s tainted image, as a combative culture warrior, and jingoistic “America First” nationalist, so his view on Ukraine should come as no surprise. Rather, it shows DeSantis’s strategy is to mimic Donald Trump and his ever evolving political positions, while keeping himself free of the toxic drama and criminal investigations that constantly engulf the former president.

In any case, it’s a major win for the Kremlin, and Vladimir Putin himself, who has been banking on a change in leadership in Washington to bail him out of his dismal war in Ukraine. If DeSantis, or god forbid, Trump were to retake the White House, and military and financial aid to Kyiv dried up, Putin’s path to victory would suddenly become far more clear, and plausible.

For his part, Vladimir Putin can be expected to do everything in his power to assist his allies in the MAGA wing of the Republican Party to achieve electoral victory in 2024, and Ron DeSantis is now on that short list. Presumably, the Kremlin will intervene vigorously in the next American election, by carrying out cyberattacks, hacking, and targeted propaganda to elevate a pro-Putin candidate, much like in 2016.

However, this time, America’s national security establishment has no excuse not to see it coming, and should be prepared to counter the Kremlin’s machinations forcefully, and from the outset. The Biden administration has every incentive to prevent Putin from sabotaging American democracy, and everything to lose should they fail.


The Anniversary of a Nightmare

5 mins read

It has been a year of fire, raining steel, smoke, bloodshed, and ruination, like nothing since Adolf Hitler’s stormtroopers blitzkrieged their way through Europe in 1940. Likewise, Vladimir Putin’s invading troops have cut a swathe of wanton destruction and murderous carnage, in a war of utterly unprovoked aggression, torturing and slaughtering unarmed civilians, kidnapping tens of thousands of young children, and flattening entire cities into dust, leaving nothing but the charred skeletons of buildings and human bodies where they stood.

And yet for all its unspeakable cruelty, the Russian military has gained pitifully little for its efforts. From the outset, the Russian army has been and remains plagued by dysfunction, disorganization, a dire lack of supplies and ammunition, sunken morale, and truly astonishing numbers of dead and wounded soldiers, estimated to be somewhere north of 200,000 men, to say nothing of Ukraine’s tens of thousands of maimed and dead.

For that terrible price, Russia has bought itself a tenuous hold over about 20% of Ukraine, in the eastern Donbas region, and a so-called land bridge connecting Russia proper to Crimea, after Ukraine’s withering summertime counteroffensive retook much of what they initially conquered, including Kharkiv and Kherson, the two major cities sacked by Russia in the first days of the war.

Of course, the Kremlin has also secured the undying hatred of the Ukrainian people, their supposed Slavic brethren, alongside punishing geopolitical isolation, and economic sanctions. Millions of middle class Russians fled the country to avoid being drafted during Putin’s “partial mobilization,” leaving behind a severe brain drain that will hobble Russia far into the future.

To call what the Kremlin still coyly refers to as its “special military operation” a debacle rather understates things. It is a historic disaster, a global confrontation that risks starting a third world war, in what would be the nuclear death knell for humanity. Putin has fanned those flames, lacing his speeches with unsubtle threats to deploy his weapons of mass destruction, in a vain effort to keep the West from arming Ukraine to resist his predations.

Still, the Biden administration, along with their European allies, have begun to shake off their fears of provoking the Kremlin, and they’re arming Ukraine ever more forcefully, sending constantly improving military hardware. They’ve sent Patriot air defense batteries, and HIMARS long range missiles; they’ve promised M1 Abrams main battle tanks, and are reportedly considering sending F-16 fighter jets. They’re training Ukrainian troops in Oklahoma, and are continuing to share vital intelligence that’s enabling Ukraine to target and kill Russians on the battlefield.

And yet this war is nowhere near over.

As Russia feeds more and more of its young men into the meat grinder, sacrificing the lives of an entire generation on the altar of Putin’s insanity, he is building nothing better than a monument to the dead, to utterly wasted lives. However, Putin believes his dream of reviving a zombie proto-Soviet-Russian empire out of the ashes of history remains within his reach. He believes that he can simply wait out the Americans, until a Republican more amenable to him retakes office, and the European alliance fractures under the economic and political pressure.

Year two

On this first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the onset of the kind of global hostilities not seen since at least the Cold War, and probably earlier, the world finds itself at a critical and dangerous precipice. Both Ukraine and Russia are digging in for a protracted and progressively bloodier fight, with little serious discussion of negotiations, ceasefires, or settlements.

Rather, Ukraine’s Western backers have called on the Kremlin to pull its murderous troops out, and are increasingly comfortable delivering high tech American arms to the government in Kyiv. To mark the one year anniversary, President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to Kyiv, in a potent show of Washington’s mounting support for the Zelensky government.

Meanwhile, both sides are promising fresh offensives. Russia has reportedly already launched its own push to consolidate the Donbas, though if the last few weeks are any indication, that may be a heavy lift. The Russian military remains saddled with dire problems, and continues to suffer incredible numbers of casualties.

Moreover, factional infighting between Wagner mercenaries and the Ministry of Defense continues to worsen, as they duke it out in a bitter public feud over increasingly scarce military supplies. Yevgeny Prigozhin recently posted macabre photos of a mound of his dead men, as he tries to secure ammunition for his fighters, and undercut his enemies at the top of the Russian military.

It’s not exactly a picture of a healthy political nor military situation, and can only be expected to deteriorate as supplies further dry up, and more men perish in the vicious fighting. Of course, the advantage of Putin’s soulless calculus, and his utter disregard for human life, are such that he has no compunctions about sending his young men to die. Diminishing weapons and ammunition are another story entirely, which is why he’s carefully tending to his budding alliance with China.

According to recently released American intelligence, Beijing is seriously considering sending lethal aid to their beleaguered partners in the Kremlin, which has been forced to beg artillery shells off North Korea and missiles from Iran. Washington has warned China of severe repercussions if it follows through, amid rapidly rising tensions between both superpowers.

But if the anti-Putin protests in cities around the world today were any indication, Vladimir Putin’s war is damned unpopular, to put it mildly. Xi Jinping aspires to global leadership, not global pariahdom, like his partner in the Kremlin has achieved for himself. If China began sending weapons to Russia’s murderous forces, Beijing’s meticulously built prestige would melt away just as quickly, and completely. The economic toll would also be grievous for China, amid promised American sanctions and the withering away of trade with Europe.

Meanwhile, China released a 12-point peace plan today that was roundly dismissed as unserious and unworkable, in what amounted to a plan to lock in Russian gains. Of course, Moscow lauded the plan. But if Beijing truly wants the war to end, they might stop supporting the Kremlin politically and diplomatically, and apply pressure to their erstwhile ally to desist from their catastrophic war.


After a year of immense bloodletting, the war in Ukraine is a terrifying reality that shows no signs of abating, or slowing down. Rather, it continues, on and on, as lives are lost, towns are torched, and people are maimed.

The horror seems endless.

Putin’s invasion has rocked the global order, as he attempts to rewrite the global security architecture, and raise the Soviet Union’s lost power and prestige from the grave. His war of national annihilation has thus far failed, due to Ukraine’s fighting prowess and bravery, Russia’s incompetence, and the West’s political and military support.

But as we enter the second year of war, this conflict is every bit as perilous as it was at the beginning. All sides are absolutely entrenched, and after Russia’s countless atrocities, committed so flagrantly and constantly as to blur together, it’s difficult to imagine any Ukrainian government ever negotiating with Putin.

And yet eventually, negotiations must happen. It’s nearly impossible to imagine this war ending otherwise, as the specter of nuclear escalation hovers in the air like an unclean ghost, threatening humanity’s very survival.

God forbid.

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