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- President Biden remained resolute that the United States will evacuate all Americans from Afghanistan by Tuesday’s deadline, despite calls from G7 allies to extend the date to allow greater numbers of at-risk Afghans to depart the country.
- Businesses that transfer key data overseas without prior approval from the Chinese government face “hefty punishments” under a new law that goes into effect Wednesday.
- Belarus has demanded the United States reduce the number of staff at its Minsk embassy to just five people by Wednesday.
- With Russia’s President Putin saying that there remains just nine miles left to complete on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany, analysts now expect the controversial pipeline to be completed within the next couple of weeks, possibly by next Friday.
- Haiti earthquake — an interview with Factal editor Jeff Landset.
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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
JIMMY LOVAAS, HOST:
Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.
Today is August 26th.
In this week’s forecast we’ve got President Joe Biden’s deadline for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, China’s new Data Security Law, Belarus telling the US to cut embassy staff, the expected completion of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and an update on the devastating Haiti earthquake.
You can read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you can find a link to in the show notes.
U.S. deadline to withdraw from Afghanistan
Information compiled by Sophie Perryer
JIMMY: President Biden remains resolute that the United States will evacuate all Americans from Afghanistan by Tuesday’s deadline. That, despite calls from G7 allies to extend the date to allow greater numbers of at-risk Afghans to depart the country.
Earlier this week the U.S. announced it had evacuated more than 83,000 people from Afghanistan since August 14th. That number includes American citizens, Afghans with links to foreign forces and those seeking to escape Taliban rule.
Pentagon officials also said they were confident that all Americans could be evacuated by August 31st, but gave few details on whether this also applied to Afghan nationals.
Now, at a G7 meeting, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson pressed for an extension to the deadline; earlier in the day, German, Spanish and U.K. officials had said evacuating all those wanting to leave by Tuesday would be close to impossible.
Still, how the Taliban behaves in the final few days of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan will shape how any government it forms will be treated by allied forces.
The group said it will not entertain any extension to the deadline and is no longer allowing Afghans to travel to Kabul airport for evacuation flights. Boris Johnson said the G7 would not recognize a Taliban administration that doesn’t allow Afghans to leave the country even after August 31st.
Meanwhile the United Nation’s top human rights official said the Taliban’s treatment of women and girls will be a “fundamental red line,” adding she had already received credible reports of serious humanitarian violations by the group, including summary executions and recruitment of child soldiers.
Chinese data security law takes effect
Information compiled by Joe Veyera
JIMMY: China’s new Data Security Law goes into effect Wednesday and businesses that transfer key data across China’s border without prior approval from the Chinese government may face “hefty punishments.”
China’s top legislative body passed the Data Security Law in June, it establishes a framework for businesses to classify their data and evaluate it based on both its economic value and its importance to the country’s national security.
Companies found to have transferred quote “core data” face penalties of more than $1.5 million and could be forced to cease operations. The transfer of so-called “important data” could come with fines of over $750,000.
Among the eight categories of data that fall under the new restrictions are science and technology, economic operations and the environment, according to a government adviser.
Another measure, the Personal Information Protection Act, will take effect November 1st. It’s aim is to safeguard internet user privacy. Combined, the two measures are thought to mark a significant regulatory milestone in the country.
Belarus tells U.S. to cut embassy staff over sanctions
Information compiled by David Wyllie
JIMMY: Belarus has demanded the United States reduce the number of staff at its Minsk embassy to just five people by Wednesday. The demand comes after the United States imposed sanctions on Belarus following the country’s 2020 election.
Relations between Belarus and the West have deteriorated since the presidential election of 2020, which was marred by widespread claims of electoral fraud and the regime’s response to protests.
As results showed President Alexander Lukashenko winning a sixth term, opposition candidates challenged the results, alleging widespread abuses.
The country’s Central Election Commission refused to invalidate the results and the country saw popular protests with many taking to the streets. Of course, that was before a crackdown by security forces that led to more than 35,0000 arrests, thousands of beatings, and the intimidation of opposition figures.
Still, the eastern European country has become even more of a pariah state after a series of high profile incidents, including the forced landing of a Ryanair flight, the defection of an Olympic athlete, and the suspicious death of an activist in Ukraine.
The U.S. ambassador to Belarus Julie Fisher was confirmed by the Senate in December, but has been unable to take up her post in Minsk as authorities denied her a visa in response to the sanctions.
And with such a small team remaining at the embassy it is likely consular services will be adversely affected, especially for those seeking to leave Belarus for the United States. The move is also likely to deepen hostility between the two countries and push Belarus further into alignment with Russia.
Estimated completion date of Nord Stream 2
Information compiled by Alex Moore
JIMMY: Russia’s President Putin says there’s just nine miles left to complete on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany. And now analysts say they expect the controversial pipeline to be completed within the next couple of weeks, possibly by next Friday.
Completion of the project would conclude a decade of controversy surrounding the pipeline. It was first conceived in 2011 as a way for Russian energy giant Gazprom to pump Arctic natural gas to Germany via the Baltic Sea.
Ukraine, for example, has been particularly outspoken against the pipeline. It has long profited from lucrative gas transit fees from Russian hydrocarbon exports to Europe.
Now, the Biden administration unveiled additional targeted sanctions on entities involved in the pipeline’s construction this past week. Though, completion of the project will certainly continue swiftly.
Of course, the administration’s decision can be situated within a broader desire to improve ties with Germany — ties that were badly frayed during the Trump presidency. Moreover, one could argue that Biden has pursued a relatively less confrontational path with Russia than both Trump and Obama.
Germany, for its part, has called for a renewal of Ukraine’s transit agreement with Russia when it expires in 2024. Germany has also agreed to help fund green energy initiatives with Ukraine.
Information compiled by Jeff Landset
JIMMY: Our last item for this forecast is an update on the major earthquake that struck the Caribbean nation of Haiti. For more on that I spoke with Factal editor Jeff Landset.
JIMMY: Hi, Jeff.
JEFF: Hi, Jimmy, how are you?
JIMMY: I’m well. Hey, I’m sure a lot of people have seen reports on the devastating quake that hit Haiti just a couple of weeks ago, but we’ve had some pretty wild news cycles since then. Can you maybe catch us up to speed on what happened there?
JEFF: Sure. A magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck southern Haiti on the morning of Saturday, August 14th, at about 8:30 a.m. It struck about 78 miles away from the capital Port-au-Prince, and that is about seven and a half miles northeast of Saint-Louis du Sud.
JIMMY: The casualty and damage reports have been pretty distressing. Can you tell me about those?
JEFF: Sure, yeah. The latest numbers show more than 2,200 people dead, at least 344 missing, more than 12,000 injured and at least 130,000 homes have been either damaged or destroyed; those are numbers from the United Nations.
JIMMY: Fair to call this humanitarian crisis then?
JEFF: Yeah, absolutely. Many foreign charities, NGOs, other volunteers have sent supplies and people to the country to help with the search and rescue and now the recovery. The arrival of Tropical Storm Grace slowed that effort. It produced 15 inches of rainfall in some places, which caused floods and mudslides.
JIMMY: That does sound like a perfect storm of disasters there. How has the Haitian government response been?
JEFF: Not great. The earthquake came just a few weeks after the assassination of the President Jovenel Moise and the caretaker government’s slow response has led many villagers to go it alone. They’ve begun rebuilding themselves and some of them are even learning to live amongst the rubble. Many politicians are also using this as an opportunity to raise their status. They’re handing out cash and food with their names on it.
JIMMY: Wow. Alright, well, besides just looking for relief efforts to continue what else should folks be watching for with this?
JEFF: Obviously, people there are desperate. In addition to the loss of lives, many have lost their homes, jobs, and the help is coming in too slow for lots of them, if at all. We’ve already seen some desperate people literally fighting for food. If the anti-government feelings continue, it could lead to unrest and upheaval for the country that’s still reeling.
JIMMY: Well, let’s hope the relief aid can make its way to the people who need it the most. In the meantime, we’ll keep an eye out for developments. Thanks for the update, Jeff. Appreciate it.
JEFF: No problem.
JIMMY: Take care.
JIMMY: Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Sophie Perryer, Joe Veyera, David Wyllie and Alex Moore. Our interview featured editor Jeff Landset and our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.
Until next time, thanks for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. You can, of course, subscribe for free. And if you have feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed.
Top photo: The Great Hall Of The People in Beijing, China. Source: Wikimedia