As nullsec regions go, Impass is on the small side. It has a mere 51 systems, and of those only six boast a station. When The Initiative took over the space during their invasion of Against All Authorities' (-A-) empire, they handed the region over to their vassal alliance, Circle Of Two (CO2).
To be put in charge of an entire region is a rare distinction for a relative newcomer to deep nullsec. However, CO2 has, to my mind, justified The Initiative's faith in it so far. Post-war operations in the South were expected to be a mopping-up action followed by a low-grade brush war against a few stubborn hold-outs while the rest of -A- evaporated like unto Atlas Alliance. Instead CO2 has found itself in a stand-up sovereignty war against the South Russian Coalition (SRC) of -A-, Stain Empire and Red Overlord. Though hard-pressed, CO2 has hung in the fight and held the line where its fellow vassal, Dead Terrorists (DT), could not.
Even when dealing with a small geography like Impass, putting all systems and station in reinforced mode is no mean feat. Yet, that is precisely what the SRC did November 17. And in so doing they struck CO2 and The Initiative with three blows all at once:
First of all, the action stood as an announcement of the Southern Russian intentions and ability. The determination, turn-out and coordination required to pull off the action announces that the Southern Russians are back. It demonstrates that they have the ships, pilots and commanders to pull of large scale operation. Stain, -A-, and Overlord are not some dead-enders who got lucky, but a fighting force to reckoned with.
Secondly, it has to be a huge morale hit for CO2 and The Initiative. To reinforce that much space at once the SRC had to be able to move pretty much at will in Impass. And when you wake up in the morning, pour your coffee and look out your window to find your entire region in reinforced mode, it's bound to make you reconsider your strategic situation.
Finally, the SRC are leveraging the Dominion sovereignty mechanic to their advantage. Those mechanics require that systems under attack be actively defended. CO2 and The Initiative must pick and choose which systems to defend and position their forces accordingly. The Southern Russians, being on offense, can attack whatever systems CO2/Initiative are poorly positioned to defend.
An obvious CO2/Initiative strategy is to leverage what they hope is a numeric advantage during the US time zones. Assuming they can pull together superior numbers, by making all systems in Impass potential targets the Southern Russians may well have offset that advantage. Stain and company can throw feints at vulnerable systems, forcing CO2/ Initiative to commit forces to their defense. If the CO2/Initiative forces refuse to engage, the South Russians get those targets on the cheap. If the CO2/Initiative forces do respond to the feint, the main South Russian forces can strike the actual targets. Not an easy operation to pull off, but Stain, -A- and Overlord have just shown they're capable of this sort of coordination.
The chatter in the forums does not bode well for CO2/Initiative. While CO2's membership numbers have held admirably during this time, CO2/Initiative fleet numbers seem to be dropping. CO2 players, while loyal to the alliance, are feeling less dedicated to the Impass cause and are finding reasons to be elsewhere. Ethereal Dawn appears to be cutting their losses and moving out of the region. At the same time, The Initiative seem oddly reluctant when it comes to the Impass fight. It may be they, already holding more space elsewhere than they can effectively manage and defend, are more inclined to let Impass slip away than go all in to hold the region.
Talk now centers on two things: If /when the SRC takes Impass, will they stop at that? And will IT Alliance join the fight on The Initiative's side?
The answer to the first is, I think, no. In the absence of some back room deal between The Initiative and -A-, I'd expect the SRC to push into Catch after a brief respite to consolidate their new holdings.
As to the second, while we might see some token elements of IT Alliance in the fight for Impass, I'd be surprised if they joined the Impass end game in any numbers. As I've written elsewhere, the bff relationship between The Initiative and IT strikes me as overstated. Further, IT Alliance is presently occupied with skirmishes elsewhere at the moment, and their patterns of behavior these days suggest they won't be sending significant forces a full region beyond their borders to open up a second front. Finally, like Rick from Casablanca, IT Alliance sticks their neck out for nobody. In a number of recent conflicts, IT Alliance has only joined in once the outcome was decided; rushing to the aid of the victor. And, right now, CO2/Initiative are not looking like winners.
In short, it's not looking good for CO2 in Impass. Elvis may not have left the building, but his limo's pulled up to the service entrance and the driver is honking the horn.