If you've been looking at the current Eve influence maps these days, you'll have noted that the Drone Russian Forces (DRF) and their vassal alliances Raiden[DOT], Evoke, Northern Coalition[DOT] and Pandemic Legion control a long arc of nullsec space that runs from the Vale/Tribute border in northern nullsec to the Omist/Teneferis border in the South.
Presently DRF and company are battering at the doors of Tribute which, I believe, has been the primary target of the DRF's campaign from the beginning. Tribute is a rich area from a resource perspective. Larded on top of their existing ISK generating capacity, Tribute would make the DRF a financial power with an ISK earning capacity that would dwarf that of any other Eve coalition. In his most recent Ten Ton Hammer column, The Mittani points out the leverage all that DRF wealth buys.
While the DRF are no slouches when it comes to PvP, the core NC alliances' PvP skills had matured in 2010, particularly in the area of capital fleets, and had shown themselves a match for the Russians in the field. The quality of NC fleet commanders tended to be spotty but, properly lead, the NC forces had shown themselves to be capable fighters in both the capital and subcapital aspects of the game. Early efforts by the DRF to establish themselves in Geminate were turned back by the NC with relative ease.
Stymied on the military front, the DRF unlimbered the financial side of their arsenal. Well placed bribes provided the DRF with an initial foothold in Geminate that the Drone Russians could not win by force of arms. When that was in danger of collapsing under pressure from the NC, the DRF purchased the services of Pandemic Legion to attack Vale and reduce pressure on the DRF forces in Geminate.
The sheer number of Supercapitals the DRF was able to purchase ensured not only numeric superiority in the invaders' Supercapital fleets, but also ensured a ready supply of replacements for supercapitals lost in combat. Thus, the DRF could not only deploy superior numbers across multiple points of attack, they could do so more aggressively, knowing their losses could be easily replaced.
As of this writing the DRF and their vassal alliances have consolidated their holds on both Geminate and Vale of the Silent, and have established a foothold in Tribute. Morsus Mihi and Razor Alliance, along with the remnants smaller NC alliances are attempting to push them back out. However, sov combat is a game won and lost by supercapital fleets, and the DRF are presently holding that "I Win" button. Barring internal division within the DRF and vassals, or an unexpected threat to the DRF renter space, the writing is on the wall.
Much has been made of Against All Authorities' (-A-) assault on the southern border of White Noise in Teneferis. However Against All Authorities (-A-) doesn't appear to have followed up their conquest of that region by applying pressure to White Noise holdings in Detorid. Instead, White Noise appears to be pulling back in that region without any encouragement, probably by way of adjusting their nullsec footprint to accommodate their newly conquered territories.
Strategic Operations Brigade (SOB), a new DRF vassal alliance made up largely of former RAGE corporations, has been given sovereignty in the Detorid constellations closest to the sole Teneferis entry system. Thus, enemies recently defeated by the DRF are turned into loyal vassals, beholden to White Noise. In return for a slice of nullsec, SOB will act as a buffer for White Noise on their frontier with -A-. The financial cost of holding the Detorid systems is moved off White Noise balance sheets.
Using vassals like SOB in this manner serves the DRF from a public relations perspective as well. As the sov map stands today, the DRF and their vassal alliances are a clear and present danger to the remaining free alliances of nullsec. Even the Mittani and his Goons, PvP rich, but supercapital poor, are concerned that they are next on the block if Razor Alliance and Morsus Mihi fall. By farming out space to vassals, the DRF disguises the effective size of its sphere of influence and creates the illusion of a politically diverse nullsec.
Now, you'll note that I've listed Pandemic Legion above as a DRF vassal alliance.
I've written elsewhere with regard to PL's limitations as a gun-for-hire business venture. In essence PL's predisposition to griefing makes them an unreliable entity with which to do business. Eschewing the burdens of holding sovereignty of their own, and with the DRF as it's sole major customer, PL has limited options for revenue generation, particularly for the rank and file pilots. Ironically, the DRF's current success means even fewer customers for PL. Every new system the DRF takes, each new alliance it takes under its wing, is one less target against which PL can make take out a contract as contracting against the DRF and vassals has the disadvantage of alienating a profitable client. At the moment, over half of nullsec is under the DRF umbrella and therefore unavailable to PL for making mayhem; its self-proclaimed raison d'etre.
Sooner or later, the interests of PL and the DRF are going to come into conflict. I'm sure both PL and the DRF are mindful of this and giving thought to life after the NC campaign. PL presently has value to the DRF as a useful weapon against its enemies. However, with the number of viable enemies dwindling, the DRF may well be wondering if PL has outlived its use if it can't be domesticated.
PL will be mindful of the same. Law and order is not PL's friend. The surest way to kill off PL is to deny it safe haven - to harry it throughout nullsec, no matter where it runs. With the DRF and friends in charge of the better part of nullsec, and the number of alternative options shrinking, PL may be thinking that the time has come to start trimming back the DRF kudzu grass - to make prey of the DRF herd. PL would be wise to consider the possibility that its employer is thinking the same thoughts and might be wondering if it's in the DRF's interests to swap its role as PL's employer for that of its undertaker.
After all, once the NC is laid low it would be a simple matter for the DRF to muster the PL supercapital fleet deep in DRF space and trap/destroy them there. Once PL's supercapital teeth are drawn, the DRF has the money and the ships to deny PL safe harbor anywhere in nullsec.
So, PL is coming up on a choice: To wear the DRF's collar, or bite the hand that feeds it and run for the wilderness. This assumes, of course, that the DRF is going to give PL the option. If PL chooses the freedom of the open plains, it's going to need allies. Which means it will have to convince the remaining free nullsec alliances that they have enough common cause to put old grudges by, and then join (and possibly lead) them against the DRF bloc.
Yeah. You heard me. Pandemic Legion may be free nullsec's best hope. I love my irony with a twist.