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Forecast: Russian forces move on Mariupol, Malta holds elections, and the EU meets with China

A photo of the interior of a train station. In the foreground you can see two sets of tracks. On the platform are dozens of people waiting.

Welcome to Factal Forecast, 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 you like what you see, you can subscribe for free.

A Look Ahead

March 25

IMF meeting on Argentina debt deal 

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Argentinian government will discuss Friday a controversial support program that the Latin American country requested to pay its debt to the institution.

What’s happened so far 

The Mauricio Macri administration contracted the $45 billion credit in 2018 during a sustained period of economic hardship. To meet payment deadlines, Argentinians will face cuts to social welfare programs and an increase in the price of gas and electricity as part of the budget redistribution. The new agreement sparked violent protests in Buenos Aires earlier this month.

The impact 

After considering the effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the global economy, the IMF is expected to ratify the agreement. This follows an approval from the Argentine Senate to support the country’s debt restructuring through an Extended Fund Facility, which allows longer payment deadlines. The approval could spark new protests around the South American country.

March 25

Paris public transport strike

Unionized staff at Paris’ public transport company RATP will strike Friday in what will mark the start of “a long and hard action for the public service” as they demand better pay increases amid rising inflation.

What’s happened so far 

Friday’s strike follows a walkout in February on the same day of annual wage talks between union representatives and management of the transport company. While RAPT said it was prepared to raise wages by 2.7 percent, unions argued that percentage concerned only 20 percent of staff and was mainly made up of promotions, with the general increase being 0.4 percent.

The impact

Bus and tram employees called a general mobilization against expanding competition, coinciding with the general strike planned for the same day. This means the strike will likely affect all metro, rail and bus services across the French capital and the surrounding Île-de-France regions, which includes connections to the Charles de Gaulle and Paris-Orly airports.

March 25

No-confidence vote against Pakistani PM

Pakistani National Assembly will convene for a special session Friday to vote on the motion of no confidence against Prime Minister Imran Khan. 

What’s happened so far 

Pakistan’s opposition coalition submitted the no-confidence motion against Khan earlier this month, accusing him of mismanaging the economy. Since then, the opposition has met with parties allied to the ruling Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), and some PTI members have defected over frustration with Khan’s administration. Though the vote should have taken place by this past Monday — 14 days since the motion was submitted — it was scheduled for Friday to accommodate the conference of Islamic countries in Islamabad.

The impact 

Although no Pakistani prime minister has ever completed their termnone were removed from office through a motion of no confidence. With PTI’s “biggest ever rally” and an opposition march on Islamabad both planned for Sunday, a potential historic ouster of Khan could lead to violence and political turmoil for the foreseeable future.

March 26

Malta elections 

On Saturday, Malta will hold a general election after incumbent Prime Minister Robert Abela dissolved parliament more than a month ago to trigger the national vote.

What’s happened so far 

Malta’s elections will be dominated by the two main political parties: Abela’s Labor Party and the Nationalist Party, led by lawyer Bernard Grech. Polls suggest the former party will win with an absolute majority and secure a third term for Abela as frequent leadership changes in Grech’s party dissuade voters.

The impact 

The election follows a few turbulent political years in Malta. In 2019, former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was investigated and resigned after his cabinet was linked to a journalist’s high-profile assassination. Additionally, Malta’s economic uncertainty will take center stage as the country grapples with coronavirus measures and the effects of financial watchdog FATF’s gray-listing of the country.

March 26

Zimbabwe National Assembly by-elections

Zimbabwe will hold its long-awaited by-elections Saturday to fill vacancies in the National Assembly and various local positions across the country.  

What’s happened so far 

The lead-up to the election has been marred by violence attributed to supporters of the ruling party, Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front. During a rally in Kwekwe for opposition party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), a machete-wielding gang killed at least one person and injured more than a dozen others. Amnesty International called for an investigation into the violence, saying “the government’s rhetoric has done much to incite such ferocious violence.” The police have also blocked new opposition rallies.

The impact 

The election will fill 133 vacancies, including 28 parliamentary seats and 105 council seats. A strong showing from CCC could lead to changes in Zimbabwe’s power establishment. CCC leader Nelson Chamisa said he’s refused an offer for a government of national unity, saying elections should go forward, whoever wins will lead, and those who lose “will support the winners either as opposition or united government.”

March 29

Memorial service for Duke of Edinburgh

Queen Elizabeth II is expected to attend a service for her late husband Prince Philip on Tuesday to celebrate his life and charity work.

What’s happened so far 

The service, an invite-only event, will be held at Westminster Abbey in London and is expected to be attended by members of the royal family, as well as royalty from Spain, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands, and other dignitaries. Taking place almost a year after Prince Philip’s death, the service is expected to pay tribute to his role as royal consort and his work with charities such as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award youth program.

The impact 

Preparations are being made for the queen to attend if she is well enough, with some newspapers speculating she could be hidden from public view to avoid being seen in a wheelchair. Other royals are expected to attend, including Prince Andrew in his first public appearance since he settled a civil sexual assault suit.

March 29

Yemen peace talks

Talks to resolve the now eight-year-long Yemen conflict are scheduled to begin Tuesday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, led by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

What’s happened so far 

Yemen’s Houthi rebels rejected an invitation to the talks, saying they would only engage in negotiations on “neutral” territory. Though previously, Yemen peace talks took place in countries not directly linked to the conflict, such as Oman, Saudi Arabia heads the coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen.

The impact 

GCC Secretary General Dr. Nayef Al-Hajraf said the talks would revolve around six points, starting with the “military and security axis” focused on a ceasefire. With a global scarcity in oil supply amid Russian sanctions and a stalemate in the Iran nuclear deal, Riyadh is encouraging international actors to take a tougher stance on Houthis targeting of oil facilities in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, yielding yet another level of urgency to a conflict that already described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

April 1

EU-China summit

The European Union and China will hold a summit next Friday amid what the EU trade chief described as “a complicated phase of relations with China.”

What’s happened so far 

Last October, the EU and China agreed to convene a summit aiming to resolve differences and promote “healthy and stable” bilateral ties, but the event was reportedly delayed until this year over concerns there would be little progress made. Recent points of tension between the EU and China include a diplomatic row with EU member Lithuania over Taiwan and unease amongst Western countries on where China stands on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The impact 

While officials have not explicitly stated whether the Russian invasion of Ukraine will feature in next Friday’s summit, it appears likely that the EU will align with the United States to warn China against aiding Russia. The United States and EU are pressuring on China to align with their stance on Ukraine, with Lithuania’s vice foreign minister in particular calling for the EU to postpone or call off the summit altogether.

What Else Matters

a photo of a theater in Mariupol, Ukraine showing extensive damage from an airstrike. The center of the building is destroyed with the right side having less damage than the left. The foreground shows a lawn. Nearer to the building are trees by the damaged building. The trees are knocked over.
A theater in Mariupol, Ukraine, where civilians were sheltering, was destroyed by an airstrike Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on March 16, 2022. (Photo: Donetsk Regional Civil-Military/Telegram)

Siege of Mariupol

As Russia’s war in Ukraine enters its second month, few cities have been hit worse than Mariupol, a key port city that was made the de-facto government capital of Donetsk region in 2014. Russian forces prioritized capturing the city in the early hours of the war, as it would give Russia full access to the Sea of Azov and a fully connected land bridge to Crimea. The city was surrounded just days into the invasion, as Russian forces pushed in from the east and conducted their largest naval landing so far to the west. The besieged city has faced a humanitarian catastrophe since, with thousands of civilian casualties reported, food and water supplies dwindling and Ukraine alleging Russian forces are repeatedly shelling the partially functioning humanitarian corridor out of the city.

Watch for: Russian bombing of Mariupol intensified in recent days as forces methodically push into the city, fighting Ukrainian forces over every street block. With communications blackouts since early-March largely limiting the flow of information, a report from the last two western journalists in the city described a horrifying scene. The extent of Russian control of the city is unknown, though the destruction is vast, with 80 percent of residences reportedly destroyed. Capturing the city would be a massive victory for Russia, freeing up forces to renew the stalled push west toward Mykolaiv and, potentially, Odesa to complete a total naval blockade of Ukraine. It would also provide a staging ground for Russian forces to push north, meeting with northern units in the Kharkiv region to potentially isolate tens of thousands of Ukrainian troops in the Donbas.

China’s coronavirus outbreak

China, the world’s biggest manufacturer, is grappling with its fastest spread in coronavirus infections since the first outbreak more than two years ago. Policymakers are taking a different approach this time, choosing more targeted restrictions rather than sweeping citywide lockdowns, in an effort to minimize economic impact.

Watch for: The virus is hitting the country’s biggest manufacturing hub, Shenzhen province, as well as other major cities such as Shanghai. Authorities are limiting lockdowns to specific neighborhoods where cases are recorded and allowing businesses to keep their workers onsite in order to limit interruptions. Disruptions to the supply chain could inflame already accelerating inflation in developed and developing economies rocked by the war in Ukraine, posing yet another risk to post-coronavirus economic recovery just as countries across the world roll back restrictions in an effort to return to normal.

Extended Outlook

What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…

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Photo: Crowds wait on the Franklin D. Roosevelt platform in Paris on Nov. 15, 2007, during a public transport strike that crippled the rail network. (Photo: Raphael Goetter/Wikipedia)

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