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The West must shoot down Putin's spy drones - by Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon for The Telegraph - 08.01.24

Russian drones are said to be observing Ukrainian soldiers training in Germany. Why aren't we blasting them out of the sky?

If there remains any confusion between the approach to the war in Ukraine between Russia and Nato, the news that Russian drones are observing Ukrainian tank crews and soldiers training in Germany should be a sharp kick in the solar plexus for Nato commanders and political leaders in the West.  

Not only are Russian drones seemingly active in Europe, but it bears repeating that we are only a mistake or misunderstanding from an Article 5 event which would bring Nato straight into conflict with Moscow. The fact that Russia is apparently restarting its Cold War “SMERSH” counter-intelligence organisation of James Bond fame underlines how these are the actions of an aggressor against all of us, not a passive adversary. The Russians are changing the security climate and we must act now to prevent wider conflict.

I tend to agree with the recent remarks of the head of Poland’s National Security Bureau that Nato has a three-year window in which to avoid war with Russia. The Kremlin is very clearly fighting a ‘total war’ directly against Ukraine and indirectly against Nato, turning tractor factories into tank production and spending 30% of its country’s wealth on weapons.

Meanwhile, the UK is allegedly mothballing warships for lack of sailors, and is said to be short of numbers for this month’s officer training at Sandhurst.  Not that there are any shortage of young men and women who want to join the military in the UK, but anybody with a modicum of understanding of today’s youngsters knows that a 12-month job application is at least 9 months too long.


The German tank ranges and training areas currently under surveillance from Moscow is where I and many British and American tank commanders spent many months honing our skills for the First and Second Gulf Wars. It is unconscionable to me that we are allowing Russia to spy on the Ukrainian forces training there. If true, these drones are either being operated by Russian special forces in Europe, or they are large drones which will have travelled hundreds if not thousands of miles from Russian territory unfettered. I can think of no military reason to not shoot these drones down.

Though to the uninitiated this may seem a minor incursion, I hope the military and security experts advising ministers in Whitehall and across Europe are disabusing them of any hesitancy. Giving Russia ‘freedom of manoeuvre’ around Europe will not only affect Ukrainian military capabilities but will allow Moscow to hoover up large amounts of intelligence on our capabilities. If we do not act, Putin may conclude that the West is far more interested in 2024’s elections than backing Ukraine to the hilt.

This sort of encouragement is all Putin needs to go full out with his invasion of Ukraine and perhaps beyond. Axiomatically, it is the West’s desire not to get fully engaged in supporting Ukraine that is most likely to lead to Nato troops becoming directly engaged in the fight in Ukraine and Europe.

It is much better, and safer, to enable Ukraine with our full support now rather than have a war in Europe which could devastate all for generations, as the last war in Europe did. The domestic concerns vexing us and focusing on politicians now would become horrifically irrelevant. This must be the year we get serious. And we can start by shooting down these pesky drones.

For this article in pdf, please click here:

The West must shoot down Putin's spy drones – by Hamish de Bretton-Gordon for The Telegrap
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Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon is former Commanding Officer of the 1st Royal Tank Regiment. He is a regular contributor on our daily podcast, ‘Ukraine: The Latest’.

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