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Forecast: Trucker convoy expected to reach D.C., UN court holds hearing on war in Ukraine, and South Korea votes in presidential election

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks by phone at his desk. Behind him are the flags of the European Union and France.

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A Look Ahead

March 4

Registration deadline for French presidential election

French presidential hopefuls have until Friday to register for this year’s election. Incumbent President Emmanuel Macron has not yet declared his intent to run, but he’s expected to announce Saturday.

What’s happened so far

All the candidates from France’s major parties  — with the exception of Macron — have already formally registered for the race. Macron is currently polling ahead, and analysts believe he will win the first round of voting April 10. Macron has already received 500 signatures of support from elected officials, which are required to get on the ballot.

The impact 

Macron will have to announce his candidacy during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and amid problems at home, such as rising gas prices and a possible immigration intake from Ukraine. It remains unclear how this context will impact his reelection bid, as some experts argue it might be a double-edge sword, though his poll numbers have climbed in the last week. The official list of candidates will be published Sunday, six weeks before the first round of voting. The election will take place over two rounds on April 10 and April 24.

March 4

Paralympics begin 

The 13th Winter Paralympics will get underway Friday in Beijing with the opening ceremony under the specter of war and pandemic.

What’s happened so far 

The Winter Olympics wrapped up Feb. 20 without any major coronavirus concerns. The organizers confirmed they would use the same “closed-loop” system during the Paralympics. Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine, and the international response, however, have created new obstacles, and on Thursday, the International Paralympic Committee opted to suspend athletes from Russia and Belarus. 

The impact 

Ukraine’s 20-person delegation will travel to China for the games despite the war. The committee’s decision to suspend Russian and Belarusian athletes followed criticism over its initial position to allow them to compete as “neutrals.” The suspension could influence how other international competitions react to the conflict. Russia’s Paralympic Committee said it plans to challenge the decision in court.

March 5

Austria lifts most coronavirus restrictions, Bulgaria eases rules

Austria and Bulgaria will ease certain coronavirus restrictions Saturday, with the former set to scrap most of them. 

What’s happened so far 

Both countries will join the overall trend in Europe and the rest of the world in easing coronavirus-related restrictions. Both experienced omicron peaks as well as protests against coronavirus measures in the last few months, so the easing of restrictions comes as a first step in returning to normal life. 

The impact 

Many public venues and retail centers are already opened to Bulgarian citizens, but on Saturday the Balkan country will reopen borders to foreign travelers who have a “green certificate” showing proof of vaccination or a negative test. By March 20, domestic green certificate requirements will end. Austria is also set to scrap its proof of vaccination or a negative test requirement Saturday. In addition, it will lift size limits for events and allow bars and restaurants to remain open past midnight. 

A couple dozen diplomats in suits wearing N95 or surgical masks stand applauding Yevheniia Filipenko, Ukraine's permanent representative to the United Nations as she stands behind the flag of Ukraine.
Yevheniia Filipenko (right behind flag), permanent representative of Ukraine to the UN at Geneva, and other diplomats left the room as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov gave a speech at the UN on Tuesday. (Photo: UN Photo / Violaine Martin)

March 7

World Court hearings over the war in Ukraine

Starting Monday, the International Court of Justice, or World Court, will hold two days of public hearings in The Hague on Ukraine’s lawsuit against Russia that rejects Moscow’s genocide claims to justify the invasion. 

What’s happened so far 

Ukraine filed a lawsuit Feb. 26 after Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed military intervention in the country was necessary to stop “genocide” in the eastern Donbas region. The case brought before the U.N. court seeks to determine whether Russia has breached international law through the ongoing offensive.

The impact 

The hearings scheduled for Monday and Tuesday will not address the dispute between Kyiv and Moscow over the meaning of the 1948 Genocide Convention, but they will determine the need to impose provisional measures until the case is heard in full. The World Court will assess whether the situation is urgent enough to order a halt on Russia’s military actions in its neighboring country.

March 8

Pakistan protest march against inflation

Amid rising prices and depleting foreign reserves in Pakistan, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has begun a long protest march against Prime Minister Imran Khan that is expected to reach Islamabad by Wednesday.

What’s happened so far 

Pakistan’s economy has been substantially affected by rising petroleum prices, general inflation, a deepening current account deficit and a decrease in their foreign reserves. PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari is leading the march, starting in Karachi and passing through 34 different cities on its way to the capital’s parliament building, where a mass sit-in will be staged. The rally will reportedly finish with the announcement of a no-confidence motion against Khan. 

The impact 

A protest march such as this one could be a catalyst for clashes in Pakistan. Rallies in major public spaces could be hotspots for violence, especially if heightened security measures lead to preventive arrests. Disruptions to local businesses and travel are expected, and will define the level of support or opposition to the incumbent government, with thousands expected to join the march when it enters Islamabad. 

March 9

South Korea presidential election 

Following months of national scandal and petty controversy, South Korea’s ruling party politician Lee Jae-myung will face conservative opposition member Yoon Suk-yeol next Wednesday for the South Korean presidency.

What’s happened so far 

Liberal Democratic Party candidate Lee is the former governor of the Gyeonggi province and supports a universal basic income proposal and diplomatic approach to engaging North Korea. Yoon, a member of the Conservative People Power Party and a former prosecutor general, pledges to take a harder line with North Korea and strengthen military and economic ties with the United States. Both have been mired in scandals for months, with Lee involved in a land development controversy and Yoon’s wife under scrutiny for exaggerating her career history and remarks on the MeToo movement.A new surprise alliance is expected to strengthen the conservative opposition, with minority candidate Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party agreeing to merge candidacies with Yoon.

The impact 

There is much at stake for South Korea this election, including soaring home prices, growing personal debt, income gaps and a recent increase in North Korean missile tests. Despite this, Lee and Yoon have been trapped in smear campaigns and mudslinging, with some local pundits dubbing the vote the “unlikeable election.” A new surprise alliance, however, is expected to strengthen the conservative opposition, with minority candidate Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party agreeing to merge candidacies with Yoon.

March 9

Israeli President Herzog to visit Turkey

Israel’s President Isaac Herzog is set to visit Ankara, Turkey, on Wednesday in what is being cast as a climate change campaign.

What’s happened so far 

The two countries severed ties in 2018 when they expelled each other’s ambassadors after Israeli forces killed 60 Palestinians during border protests in Gaza. Ankara has long been a supporter of a two-state solution, widely condemning the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and accusing Israel of “terrorism” against Palestinians. Since his appointment in July 2021, Herzog has sought rapprochement with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leading many analysts to believe Turkey could be the next country to normalize ties with Israel. The two presidents have spoken several times, and a Turkish delegation visited Israel on Feb. 17.

The impact 

Both sides claim this visit is part of a wider climate change agenda, with Erdogan interested in bringing Israeli gas into the country. The unprecedented visit is likely to have broader implications, however, as Israel wants to end Turkish support for the Gaza-based Hamas group. Erdogan has assured that entering in talks with Israel would not come at a cost for the support of a Palestinian state, claiming that it is hoping to serve as a new mediating force between the two.

March 11

U.S. government funding deadline  

U.S. Congress is racing to finalize a spending package by Friday that would cover the remainder of the fiscal year that ends in September, after resorting to three straight short-term funding measures to avoid a government shutdown amid partisan disputes.

What’s happened so far 

Lawmakers have been deadlocked since December on a spending plan amid divisions along party lines. Democrats are prioritizing investing in social programs and initiatives to combat climate change, while Republicans want more money for the military and oppose coronavirus-vaccine mandates introduced by the Biden administration.

The impact 

While details of a final deal are still unclear, it appears both sides are edging closer to an agreement. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, indicated in February that a fourth stopgap bill won’t be necessary. Passage of a funding plan would mark the first under a Biden administration looking for a win after its Build Back Better plan was stalled and as surging inflation and low approval ratings threaten the Democrat’s hold on power in November’s midterm elections.

What Else Matters

Two D.C. police and two D.C. National Guard stand in a road. There are cars parked on the side of the road. They look to be preparing for traffic control. The Guard members are wearing fatigues and reflective vests. The police are in standard uniforms. All are wearing masks.
Members of the D.C. National Guard man a traffic stop near the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 27 as the district prepares for the “People’s Convoy” and other protests to reach the area this week. (Photo: The National Guard)

Convoy expected to reach U.S. capital

One of several trucker-led convoys is scheduled to arrive in the Washington, D.C., area by Saturday, as the self-proclaimed “People’s Convoy” brings its protest against coronavirus mandates to the nation’s capital. The group says it does not plan to enter Washington, D.C., proper, and “will abide by agreements with local authorities,” but at least one organizer claimed “we’re not going anywhere” until their demands are met.

Watch for:

A similar convoy brought parts of the Canadian capital of Ottawa to standstill for several weeks, forcing the federal government to invoke the Emergencies Act to clear the demonstrators. While plans for large-scale demonstrations to coincide with President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on Tuesday fizzled out, fencing remains in place around the U.S. Capitol in anticipation of crowds that may arrive in the coming days. There were an estimated 250 people at a convoy stop in St. Robert, Mo., on Monday, headed for the Beltway, but spin off groups on social media also claim to be en route, making reliable crowd estimates difficult, if not impossible. 

German re-arming

In a stunning move this week, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz reversed decades of cross-partisan German defense thought following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Speaking before an extraordinary session of parliament, the first on a Sunday in German history, Scholz announced the creation of a €100 billion ($113 billion) fund to modernize Berlin’s infamously underfunded armed forcesand pledged to exceed the NATO spending target of 2 percent of annual GDP on defense. Given that German change tends to proceed slowly and cautiously, specifically in the military realm, the shift from a left-of-center chancellor in a coalition with the Green Party is extraordinary. 

Watch for:

While the announcement tWhile the announcement that Germany would become Europe’s largest defense spender was certainly the headline grabber, it was just one of many stark shifts in German policy vis-a-vis Russia following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. In another departure from long-running German policy of not providing arms to crisis zones, Berlin announced a large shipment of lethal arms to Ukraine, including anti-tank and stinger missiles. Germany also dropped its opposition to cutting Russia from SWIFT and halted work on the major Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, both major shifts given German economic integration and energy dependence with Russia. That such historic shifts in German policy happened within the span of days shows the extent to which Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to have miscalculated global response, and marks a diplomatic victory for U.S. President Joe Biden, who analysts argue has handled the Ukraine crisis deftly. 

Extended Outlook

What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…

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Photo: French President Emmanuel Macron speaks by phone March 1 to various world leaders about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (Photo: Élysée)