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Forecast: Russian invasion complicates Iran nuclear talks, oil prices surge, and Turkmenistan holds early election

Two members of the EU parliament are featured. The one on the left is in yellow, signing a document. Behind her is another woman, in a navy blue top with a blue and yellow scarf on. Both are wearing masks. Behind them is an EU flag.

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. To receive the Forecast in your inbox subscribe for free.


A Look Ahead

MARCH 11

EU heads of state meet in Versaille  

European leaders will meet at the Versaille Palace outside of Paris for a two-day informal meeting starting Friday, during which they will discuss the situation in Ukraine and debate the European Union’s defense budget.

What’s happened so far 

France, which currently holds the presidency of the European Council, will host the informal meeting in Versailles in the midst of the war in Ukraine. While an official agenda has not been released, leaders are expected to discuss Ukraine’s possible fast-track application to the bloc as well as a package to better coordinate defense spending and projects in sectors like aerospace.

The impact 

French President Emmanuel Macron pledged his support for Ukraine following Russia’s attack and has been particularly active in trying to mediate the crisis, holding several phone conversations with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. While some progress could be made during the meeting, it is unlikely Ukraine will be able to join the EU quickly given the complex process it often entails.

MARCH 12

Turkmenistan presidential election  

On Saturday, Turkmenistan will hold the first of two rounds of early presidential elections in what is expected to be an orchestrated vote.

What’s happened so far 

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who has run the Central Asian nation since 2006, hinted he might retire before his current term ends in 2024. The 64-year-old recently told the country’s upper chamber of parliament that it’s time for “young leaders” to take power, with many analysts believing his son Serdar will succeed him. Serdar, currently a deputy prime minister, was nominated as a ruling party candidate in the election and has quickly risen through the ranks of government since 2016.

The impact 

Though the transition comes amid historic unrest in nearby Kazakhstan, the early election seems to have been prompted by years-long rumors that Berdymukhamedov is in poor health. The tightly choreographed handover also syncs up with his son’s 40th birthday, making him constitutionally able to run for president. Little is known about the presumed next leader, though not much in the totalitarian state is expected to change with his father expected to retain behind-the-scenes power.

MARCH 12

SWIFT removes Russian banks  

SWIFT, the service that connects thousands of financial institutions worldwide, is officially removing seven Russian banks on Saturday

What’s happened so far 

After Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, the United Kingdom urged the European Union to remove Russia from the banking transaction system. The proposal failed but it spurred Russia to create its own system. This month, following the invasion into Ukraine, sanctions were put in place that removed seven Russian banks from SWIFT. 

The impact 

Russia is more isolated from the rest of the world after this move, but it’s not crippling. Two major Russian banks remain in the system because they’re seen as necessary to help some European countries pay for energy imported from Russia. Most of the banks being removed said they’re unaffected by the decision, including at least one that said it will use the Russian system instead.

MARCH 13

Colombia legislative elections  

On Sunday, Colombia will kick off its presidential election year with primary and legislative elections.

What’s happened so far 

Nearly 40 million people are eligible to vote in Sunday’s elections, during which they will choose members of Colombia’s Senate and House of Representatives before May’s presidential election. Three coalitions — divided into center, left and right ideologies — will also choose their candidates for the first round of the presidential polls.

The impact 

The results of Sunday’s polls could hint at the voting trends for May amid a deep discontent across the country due to high costs of living, an economy severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and the lack of effective government solutions to six months of protests last year.

A wide photo of the opening ceremony for the 2022 Paralympics in Beijing. On a dais is the IPC president and one other dignitary. To the right of the image are dozens of people holding flags of the participating nations. The whole scene is in a large stadium with stands full of athletes, coaches, and administrative officials.
IPC’s president spoke at the opening of the Paralympics in Beijing on March 4, calling for peace in the games amid the war in Ukraine. (Photo: International Paralympic Committee)

MARCH 13

Beijing Paralympics closing ceremony  

The 2022 Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing will close Sunday after 10 days of competition and in the shadow of the war in Ukraine. 

What’s happened so far 

While the Paralympics have managed to avoid major coronavirus outbreaks that threatened to overshadow the games, they were instead marred by politics and conflict, including diplomatic boycotts from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, India and Australia and the banning of athletes from Russia and Belarus over the invasion of Ukraine.

The impact 

The exclusion of Russia and Belarus’ athletes came at the last moment, with the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) making the announcement the night before the opening ceremony. The IPC said it made the decision after several federations threatened to not compete. The IPC also cited safety and security concerns, saying “the situation in the athlete villages [was] escalating” and had become “untenable.” It remains unclear what specifically may have prompted the safety concerns.

MARCH 14

France lifts vaccine passport rules  

France will scrap some remaining coronavirus restrictions, including the vaccine pass and mask mandate in most indoor areas, starting Monday as cases continue to fall. 

What’s happened so far

France will scrap some remaining coronavirus restrictions, including the vaccine pass and mask mandate in most indoor areas, starting Monday as cases continue to fall. 

What’s happened so far 

France’s Prime Minister Jean Castex said the country had met multiple conditions, including a decline in the number of coronavirus patients in hospitals, to allow for lifting of restrictions. Masks will remain obligatory on public transport, while medical facilities will continue to require visitors to wear a mask and carry a vaccine pass. 

The impact 

By lifting these restrictions one month before the presidential election, President Emmanuel Macron is likely hoping to avoid further protests, as the vaccine pass has proved unpopular with voters opposed to state vaccination requirements. Such a move could also help Macron to attract voters from the likes of right-wing candidates Marine Le Pen and Éric Zemmour, who are both strong critics of the vaccine pass.

MARCH 15

Vietnam fully reopens borders

After nearly two years of pandemic-related closures, Vietnam plans to fully reopen its borders to international travelers on Tuesday.

What’s happened so far 

Vietnam stopped all entry to foreign tourists in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic and only began accepting some travelers again last November under a pilot program. Despite an ongoing surge in cases, Vietnam’s government is pressing forward with “gradual normalization” of the coronavirus, with most of the country’s population vaccinated and fatality rates significantly dropping.

The impact

Despite announcing its opening last month, the Vietnamese government has yet to clarify some confusion over border entry policy, with the health ministry disagreeing with tourism officials on coronavirus protocol. Vietnam’s tourism industry is also dealing with a shortage in workers after two years of closed borders.

MARCH 15

U.S. Federal Reserve policy meeting

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said he’ll back a traditional quarter-point interest rate increase when the Fed meets Tuesday, spurning calls for a higher rate hike in the face of surging inflation. 

What’s happened so far 

The U.S. inflation rate hit a fresh 40-year high of 7.9 percent in February, with some officials floating the idea of a half-point interest rate increase in response. While Powell has demurred on the idea of a larger increase at this time, he told the House Financial Services Committee he is ready to make more substantial or more frequent rate changes if necessary. 

The impact 

The planned quarter-point jump — the first since late 2018 — could have widespread ramifications on everything from the job market to mortgage lending, and some hope it could reduce demand for items now impacted by supply chain issues. It will, however, take a delicate balancing act to tamp down inflation without slowing down the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. 

MARCH 16

Netherlands holds municipal elections

Some 13 million people across more than 300 municipalities in the Netherlands will cast their ballots in local elections Wednesday.

What’s happened so far 

The Netherlands holds municipal elections once every four years. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, some polling stations will also open for two days prior to March 16 to accommodate people who would like to avoid large crowds. Unlike parliamentary elections, foreign nationals across the country are eligible to vote in municipal elections provided they meet certain requirements, like having lived in the Netherlands for at least five years.

The impact 

The elections will determine the makeup of municipal councils — which range in size from nine to 45 members depending on population — for the next four years. While both national and local parties participate, the latter have won the most votes and seats in previous municipal elections.


What Else Matters

A photo of gas prices in Queens, New York. Prices range from $4.39 to $5.09.
High gas prices are seen at a station in Queens, N.Y., on March 9. The price of $4.39 a gallon is just above the U.S. average of $4.25. (Photo: Rebecca Bratek / Factal)

Iran nuclear talks

A new round of talks on reviving the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) ended in Vienna, Austria, after more than 11 months of negotiations. UN nuclear watchdog chief Rafael Grossi said the nuclear deal with Iran was “in its final stages,” despite not yet securing an agreement on a future IAEA-led inspections. Although most negotiating parties have now left Vienna, indirect talks between Tehran, Moscow and Washington continue as the Ukraine invasion and the West’s subsequent sanctions on Russia risk bringing the JCPOA revival efforts to another halt. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for Moscow’s relationship with Iran not to come under U.S. sanctions, a demand that the United States dismissed.

Watch for: Experts fear a further stall in the long anticipated deal as Tehran waits for Russian clarification on its demands from the West. A revived deal could see Iran putting its oil back on the market again and ease the current crisis in oil prices stemming from a Russian embargo – something that Russia, however, is likely to use as a bargaining chip. Both the United States and the chief negotiators of the E3 – France, Germany and the United Kingdom – are likely to reject Russia’s demand to be exempted from sanctions, just as Moscow is likely to veto a nuclear deal altogether if this demand is not met.

Oil prices surge

Western sanctions on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine are fueling a surge in oil prices not seen since the global financial crisis of 2008. With the United States and United Kingdom banning the import of Russian oil, policymakers in those countries are encouraging others to join them. They’re also scrambling to find alternatives amid already surging inflation that threatens to derail economic recovery as the world emerges from the coronavirus pandemic.

Watch for: Oil briefly hit a 30-year high of $130 per barrel after the start of Russia’s military action in Ukraine two weeks ago, causing gasoline prices in the United States to spike. Some analysts warn oil prices could jump to $200 a barrel this summer if other top producers, such as Saudi Arabia, don’t boost production to meet the seasonal increase in demand. Meanwhile, the Biden administration is coming under increased pressure to release more supplies from U.S. oil reserves, though analysts say those quantities aren’t likely to have a meaningful impact on prices due to the magnitude of the shortage and ongoing geopolitical uncertainty.


Extended Outlook

What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…

Many of the planned events we are tracking over the next few weeks.

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