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Forecast Podcast: Russia military exercises, UN aid conference on Afghanistan, California recall election, coronavirus vaccine boosters, Guinea coup

A tank maneuvers during the 2017 Zapad exercise.

Listen to the full podcast episode here:


  • Massive quadrennial military exercises led by Russia and known as “Zapad” are set to begin Friday.
  • The United Nations will convene an international aid conference in Geneva on Monday to discuss the Afghanistan crisis.
  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s time in the governor’s mansion may be coming to a sooner-than-expected end depending on how Tuesday’s recall election pans out. 
  • The White House will consider a booster shot drive in the United States later this month in a public session with Israel’s Health Ministry on Friday.
  • Guinea coup — an interview with Factal senior editor Sophie Perryer. 

These stories and more are available in our weekly Forecast email and you can subscribe for free.

This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Alex Moore, Jess Fino, Jimmy Lovaas, Lara von der Brelie and Sophie Perryer.  Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe


This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.


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 September 9th.

In this week’s forecast we’ll look at Russia military exercises in Belarus, a UN aid conference on Afghanistan, California’s gubernatorial recall election, coronavirus vaccine boosters, and the recent coup in the West African nation of Guinea. 

You can read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you can find a link to in the show notes.

Russian military exercises in Belarus and Russia

Information compiled by Alex Moore

JIMMY: Every four years Russia leads a massive military exercise known as “Zapad” —  which translates to “west” and is set to begin on Friday. 

The drills will take place at nine sites in Russia and five more in Belarus.

The exercises will involve roughly 200,000 soldiers, 80 aircraft and nearly 300 tanks — that marks the largest such drills since the Cold War. 

And while Russians will make up the bulk of the forces involved, nine other countries will participate in the drills, including India, with eight other countries observing. 

Now, true to the drills’ name, the exercises will all take place along Russia and Belarus’ western flank with NATO, including the heavily fortified Kaliningrad enclave. 

And as such, the Baltic states and Poland have expressed concerns about large numbers of Russian forces near their respective borders. 

NATO, meanwhile, has called for Russian transparency. Still, the risk of accidental escalation remains considering the close proximity of large amounts of Russian forces and NATO forces conducting surveillance, particularly in the naval realm in the Baltic Sea. 

The exercises also come during a period of simmering tensions between Belarus and its neighboring NATO countries who allege Minsk is using migrants as tools to undermine them. 

UN aid conference on Afghanistan

Information compiled by Jess Fino

JIMMY: On Monday, the United Nations will convene an international aid conference in Geneva to discuss the Afghanistan crisis.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres announced the conference amid what he called a “looming humanitarian catastrophe” with severe drought affecting many Afghans. 

And with the Taliban now in power, millions of civilians face starvation due to the country’s isolation and an economy devastated by war and corruption. 

Meanwhile, the Taliban have met with UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths in Kabul to discuss humanitarian aid, with the Taliban claiming Griffiths promised continuation of humanitarian assistance.

UN Secretary General Guterres said he will seek an increase in funding for humanitarian relief in Afghanistan as almost half of the country’s population needs support. 

The U.S. Congress is expected to agree to finance the UN and other agencies providing humanitarian aid, but it is very unlikely it will directly fund a new Taliban-led government

California gubernatorial recall election

Information compiled by Jimmy Lovaas

JIMMY: California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s time in the governor’s mansion may be coming to a sooner-than-expected end depending on how Tuesday’s recall election pans out. Voters will be deciding if Newsom gets to keep his job or if he’ll be replaced by one of 46 candidates competing for the role.

Now, Newsom has served about two-thirds of his term so far — much of which has been dominated by the coronavirus pandemic and a public frustrated with public health restrictions. 

And while those frustrations are widely believed to have fueled the initial momentum of the recall effort, some recent polling suggests Newsom may still have enough public support to stave off the recall. 

If political betting markets are any indication of how things might turn out, the recall effort looks likely to fail. 

Still, the state’s only other recall election was in 2003, when voters replaced incumbent Democratic Governor Gray Davis with Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Finally, if Californians do vote to recall Gov. Newsom, they’ll be picking his replacement from a list of candidates devoid of prominent Democrats and no one endorsed by the Democratic Party. Instead, voters will be choosing from a field that includes front-runner Larry Elder, a conservative talk radio host who has promised to rescind all state-imposed mask and vaccine mandates.

Israel health experts brief FDA on boosters

Information compiled by Lara von der Brelie

JIMMY: Next Friday, an important FDA advisory panel is set to review Pfizer’s data supporting a booster shot for the coronavirus vaccine. 

The Israeli health ministry will also be at the public session and will be presenting information from its booster shot rollout.

If the committee concludes boosters are needed, it could give the Biden administration a mandate to approve a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

Now, Israel began offering Pfizer booster shots in July to senior citizens and has extended the program to people above the age of 12

In fact, altogether about 28 percent of Israel’s total population have received the third Pfizer vaccine.

President Biden had to delay his own booster campaign, which was due to launch on September 20, because Pfizer has so far been the only vaccine-maker to seek authorization for a third dose.

Nonetheless, while some believe the policy to be premature, others say it could help stop vaccine protection from waning. 

Israeli health officials said the second Pfizer dose loses some of its effectiveness just five months after being administered. They argue that their booster drive has helped slow the rise in severe symptoms caused by the Delta variant.

Guinea coup

Information compiled by Sophie Perryer

JIMMY: Our last item for this forecast is on the military coup underway in the West African nation of Guinea. For more on that I recently spoke with Factal senior editor Sophie Perryer.

SOPHIE: Hey Jimmy! 

JIMMY: Alright, Sophie, catch us up to speed on Guinea. Seems like a coup just popped up, well, basically out of nowhere.

SOPHIE: Well, pretty much. On Sunday, senior military leader Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, appeared on state television draped in Guinea’s national flag to announce that he’d seized power from the country’s octogenarian President Alpha Conde in an apparent coup. Now, earlier that day, we’d seen reports of heavy gunfire around the presidential palace in Guinea’s capital Conakry.

JIMMY: Can I assume that when Colonel Doumbouya appeared on TV that he offered some sort of justification for all this?

SOPHIE: That’s right, he did. He said that “poverty and endemic corruption” had driven him to depose Conde. Conde has actually been accused of undermining Guineans’ democratic freedoms since he came to power in 2010, notably by changing the country’s constitution to allow himself to run for a third term, and then presiding over a heavy crackdown by security forces on anti-government protests in late 2019 and early 2020.

JIMMY: You know, it seemed like once the gunfire died down it got rather quiet. What are some of the changes that have happened since then?

SOPHIE: So the new military junta has suspended the constitution. It says it’s working to establish a government of national unity — that’s through consultations with the opposition and civil society leaders. While those are going on the country has been placed under a 10pm curfew, all land and air borders are closed, and former government officials have been banned from leaving the country. The junta also replaced the existing civilian governors of Guinea’s eight regions with their own military appointees and freed around 80 political prisoners who were jailed during Conde’s regime. And speaking of the former president, he remains in military custody, but the coup leaders say he has been granted access to medical professionals and allowed to take any prescribed medication he needs.

JIMMY: How has the international community reacted to this? They’re not often fond of coups?

SOPHIE: Well, unsurprisingly, the UN, the US, the UK and the African Union have all condemned the coup, while ECOWAS, the regional economic body, is meeting on Wednesday to discuss potential sanctions. The situation in Guinea is also being viewed as part of a wider trend in West Africa. In fact, elderly leaders in Mali and Chad have also been unseated by military coups in the past year.

JIMMY: How about the Guinea citizens? What’s the domestic response been like?

SOPHIE: Well, interestingly, quite different to the international response. The reaction within the country seems to have been broadly positive. Footage on social media has shown citizens celebrating new leaders. On Monday, Doumbouya faced a rapturous audience when he drove around the capital Conakry. In terms of the opposition, the leader of Guinea’s largest opposition party described the coup as a last resort, but nevertheless a patriotic act.

JIMMY: Well, obviously folks will be keeping an eye out for signs of violence and whatnot, but what else should we be watching for?

SOPHIE: Well, there’s an economic angle to this story as well, as Guinea has the world’s largest reserves of bauxite, the raw material which is used to make aluminum. Now, some analysts had raised concerns about disruption to supplies of the material due to the unrest, but these don’t appear to have materialized so far as the junta has encouraged mining companies to continue to operate. Firms in the mining sector have also been exempted from the curfew and the border closures as well.

JIMMY: Well, this seems like a good place to stop for now, but thank you for the update. I trust you’ll keep an eye on things and let us know if there’s any major developments. 

SOPHIE: Of course. We’ll be keeping an eye on the situation. 

JIMMY: Take care.

JIMMY: Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Alex Moore, Jess Fino, me — Jimmy Lovaas and Lara von der Brelie. Our interview featured editor Sophie Perryer 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

This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed. 

Copyright © 2021 Factal. All rights reserved.

Music: ‘Factal Theme’ courtesy of Andrew Gospe

Top Photo: A tank maneuvers during the 2017 Zapad exercise. Source: Игорь Руденко | Wikimedia