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Forecast: Russia attacks Ukraine, Somalia faces election deadline, and Canada eases travel restrictions

Russian President Putin sits at a desk. Behind him and to the left is a Russian flag.

Welcome to Factal Forecast for the week of Feb. 25-March 4, a look at the week’s biggest stories from the editors at Factal. We publish our forward-looking note each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. If this email was forwarded to you, and you like what you see, you can subscribe for free.

A Look Ahead

Somalia’s Prime Minister Roble met with C6+ members on Feb. 15 to discuss  the completion, transparency and security of the country's elections. They are seated at a long rectangular table.
Somalia’s Prime Minister Roble met with C6+ members on Feb. 15 to discuss  the completion, transparency and security of the country’s elections. (Photo: OPM Somalia)

Feb. 25 

Somalia’s national election deadline

Somalia government committed in January to completing their national parliamentary elections by Friday, after more than a year of delays fueled by political instability and a bitter feud between its leaders.

What’s happened so far

President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and Prime Minister Mohammed Hussein Roble have disputed over the country’s national elections since April 2021, when Mohamed controversially extended his expired presidential mandate, triggering deadly fighting in Mogadishu over what critics called a power grab. Meanwhile, as Roble and Mohamed continued to blame each other over ongoing delays, the country faced regular attacks by al-Shabab militants.

The impact

If Somalia does not successfully complete its parliamentary elections as planned, the country faces threats of sanctions from the United States and reduced funding from the IMF. Continued instability could also prove dangerous in Somalia’s fight against al-Shabab, which is vying to topple the fragile central government.

Feb. 27

Belarus referendum

Belarusians will complete voting on a constitutional referendum Sunday. The vote comes in the wake of the 2020-2021 mass protests — the country’s largest since gaining independence from the Soviet Union.

What’s happened so far 

President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled since 1994, ordered the referendum in January. Included is an amendment to the constitution that would bring back presidential term limits, but would also allow Lukashenko to run for two additional terms after his current one ends in 2025. The amendments would also give new powers to the parliament-like, but government-friendly All-Belarus People’s Assembly and remove clauses about Belarus’ pursuit of neutrality and its non-nuclear status.

The impact 

The U.S. mission to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe criticized the referendum, calling it “non-transparent” and not a credible path forward to resolve the country’s political crisis. Some opponents said the draft amendments, which Lukashenko claims to have personally written, are an attempt to strengthen his grip and remain in office until 2035. If the referendum passes and Belarus ditches its non-nuclear status, it could pave the way for the country to host Russian nuclear weapons.

Feb. 28

Canada eases travel requirements

Canada’s public health agency will start easing coronavirus-related entry measures for fully vaccinated international travelers Monday, allowing them to enter with a negative rapid test instead of a PCR one, as coronavirus cases continue to decline.

What’s happened so far 

As of Monday, any fully vaccinated traveler with a rapid antigen test taken within 24 hours will be allowed to enter Canada while following testing guidelines. Fully vaccinated travelers who have been in any foreign country other than the United States within the previous 14 days have so far had to provide proof of a negative PCR test within 72 hours of entering the country. 

The impact 

The relaxation comes after weeks of protests in Ottawa against coronavirus restrictions. International travelers entering Canada will still be subject to random testing, and unvaccinated travelers will still be required to take tests on arrival and on day eight, as well as quarantine for two weeks. Canada’s travel advisory now urges Canadian citizens to take precautions, easing its recommendation against non-essential travel. The Global Business Travel Association welcomed the move as a “positive step” that will boost business travel. 

March 1

Czech Republic lifts most coronavirus restrictions

The Czech Republic will ease coronavirus restrictions and scrap vaccine certificates Tuesday with the aim of reinvigorating the economy and allowing unvaccinated citizens to resume everyday activities. 

What’s happened so far

While daily cases continue to be high, hospitalizations have started to decrease and remain below previous highs. As a result, Prime Minister Petr Fiala and President Miloš Zeman approved changes to the current pandemic law, starting in early March. Changes include ending coronavirus passports in restaurants and hairdressers and permitting up to 50 percent capacity in stadiums and at events. Mask-wearing, however, will remain mandatory.

The impact

The Czech Republic’s actions follow the general trend of EU countries that believe the pandemic’s worst is now in the past. Czech officials said future measures will depend on the progress of the virus, but the country remains committed to easing restrictions for now. Trade Minister Jozef Síkela said the country also plans to renew economic programs and compensation for businesses to help revitalize the economy, though the government is still in talks with trade unions.

A photo of President Joe Biden addressing a joint session of Congress in April 2021. Behind the President are Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Behind them is a massive American flag.
President Joe Biden addressed a joint session of Congress in April 2021, but his speech next week will be considered his first State of the Union during his presidency.
(Photo: Adam Schultz / White House)

March 1

Biden delivers State of the Union

President Joe Biden will deliver the first State of the Union of his presidency Tuesday, with all 535 congressional members will be invited to attend.

What’s happened so far 

Last week, the House sergeant-at-arms announced that all members of the House and Senate can be present in the House chamber, provided each lawmaker produces a negative PCR test and wears a mask. Biden delivered a joint statement to Congress in April 2021, but such a speech is not considered a State of the Union until the president’s second calendar year in office. With reports that a convoy of truckers could arrive in Washington, D.C., around the time of Biden’s address, fencing will be reinstalled around the U.S. Capitol, and various law enforcement agencies are drawing up contingency plans.

The impact 

Biden is expected to address several issues in his speech, including the $1.75 billion infrastructure plan stalled in the Senate, the country’s efforts on coronavirus and voting rights. With the Ukraine conflict ramping up and the possible arrival of a trucker’s convoy similar to the one in Ottawa, Biden’s first State of the Union could hold surprises. Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi vowed to remove any members who refuse to wear masks.

March 1

Israel to allow in all tourists

Israel will allow all international travelers enter the country as of Tuesday, regardless of their vaccination status, but will still require both pre- and post-travel PCR tests.

What’s happened so far 

Up until now, Israel has only been open to fully vaccinated international travelers with two negative PCR tests — one before departure and one upon landing. As case numbers have dropped, the country has gradually lifted its restrictions since shutting its borders in March 2020, with the exception of late 2021 when the country tightened travel rules in response to the spread of the omicron variant.

The impact 

The relaxation of coronavirus-related travel restrictions will open up the country to unvaccinated tourists and will likely boost the tourism industry. Despite a slow increase in visitors, the current number of travelers remains below pre-pandemic levels. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, however, warned his government “will keep an eye on the pulse, and in case of a new variant we will react quickly.”

March 1

Japan eases coronavirus border controls 

Foreign students and business travelers will be allowed to enter Japan starting Tuesday, as the country relaxes some of its coronavirus measures.

What’s happened so far  

Japan has kept its borders mostly closed to foreigners since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, save for a brief stretch late last year before the emergence of the omicron variant. In addition to easing restrictions on who can enter the country, the number of travelers allowed in daily as of Tuesday will increase from 3,500 to 5,000, and the required quarantine period will be reduced. Tourists remain barred from entry.

The impact 

Both businesses and universities say the 5,000 per day cap is still too low to meet their needs, as that limit includes Japanese nationals and foreign residents re-entering the country. According to Japan’s Immigration Services Agency, nearly 150,000 students with visas are waiting to enter. Japan has become particularly reliant on workers and students from outside the country due to its shrinking population and aging workforce. 

March 2

U.S. Fed chief to update Congress  

The head of the U.S. central bank will brief lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Wednesday and Thursday ahead of interest rate hikes.

What’s happened so far 

The Federal Reserve lowered interest rates to historic levels at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic to stave off a recession. Over the past year, inflation has risen rapidly, undercutting a 5.7 percent increase in wage growth over the past year.

The impact 

These meetings with lawmakers might tip the Fed’s hand on how aggressive the hikes will be. If the interest rate hikes are too steep, it could slow the growth of the economy

What Else Matters

Russian President Putin sits at a desk with a Russian flag behind and to the left.
Russian President Putin confirmed earlier this week that Russia would recognize the independence of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, possibly paving the way for military action in Ukraine. (Photo: Kremlin)

Russia invades Ukraine

After weeks of build-up, Russia attacked Ukraine on Thursday morning, launching airstrikes in major cities nationwide, including Kyiv, Kharkiv and Mariupol and attacking the Ukrainian borders with Belarus and Russia. Both Russian and Ukrainian officials have confirmed deaths and injuries, including civilians, across various regions. Immediately after the strikes began, Ukraine’s president declared martial law. In his address announcing the attack, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that any foreign intervention would be met with “consequences that you have never encountered in your history.” Earlier this week, in a jarring speech filled with historical animus, Putin provided an interpretive outlook on Ukrainian statehood that bordered on being outright imperial. In doing so, he confirmed that Russia would recognize the independence of the pro-Russian breakaway states in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Watch for: While Western intelligence did suggest Russia could attack Kyiv, the speed and scale of Thursday’s strikes was widely unexpected. Foreign media scrambled to respond to the attack, with U.S. President Biden promising “a strong, united response that deters any aggression.” NATO announced an almost-immediate deployment of additional air, land and sea forces to its member countries in eastern Europe, and EU bodies vowed to take powerful measures designed to cripple Russia’s economy. With broad sanctions targeting Russia’s hydrocarbons sector anticipated, the fallout could be global, a possibility Biden stressed on Tuesday. Europe will likely be the epicenter of this, and Germany has already suspended the major Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia. Ukraine also stands as one of the world’s major grain exporters, meaning a broader incursion could send food security ripples around the world.

Extended Outlook

What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…

A graphic featuring a calendar of events in the next three weeks.

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