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Forecast Podcast: War in Ukraine rages on with future of the Donbas region at stake

Wearing protective vests dozens of people inspect a building that was recently destroyed in a strike.

Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Alex Moore discuss the fighting intensifying in eastern Ukraine, plus more on Colombia’s presidential election, the annual Jerusalem Day “Flag March”, a national strike in Belgium and water restrictions in California.

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

This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Jaime Calle Moreno, Jeff Landset, Joe Veyera, Ahmed Namatalla and Alex Moore.  Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe

Have feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed? Drop us a note: hello@factal.com.


Podcast Transcript

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

JIMMY LOVAAS, HOST:

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 May 26th.

In this week’s forecast we’ve got Colombia’s presidential election, the annual Jerusalem Day “Flag March”, a national strike in Belgium, water restrictions in California and an update on the war in Ukraine. 

You can also read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter.

Colombia presidential election

Information compiled by Jaime Called Moreno

JIMMY: Voters in Colombia will head to voting booths in the first-round of the country’s presidential election on Sunday. Candidates on the ballot seek a drastic change for the next four years, unprecedented in Colombia’s political history.

Polls indicate that Gustavo Petro, a former left-wing guerilla fighter, now senator, leads with nearly 40 percent of the vote in his second attempt at the presidency. 

He’s followed by Federico Gutiérrez, the right-wing Equipo por Colombia leader with 24 percent, and Rodolfo Hernandez, a populist anti-corruption former mayor, gaining votes in third place. 

And so, it seems Colombians are set to vote in the most left-leaning president in the country’s history.

Now, the vote comes after mass protests, large upticks of police violence and armed strikes by guerillas and cartels. It also comes amid widening inequality. 

What’s more, elections in Colombia are expected go hand in hand with increased violence, assassinations, and cartel and guerilla attacks on civilians and journalists. Plus, stronger military presence and police violence. 

Finally, while Petro is unlikely to win the majority vote that would cancel the second round of voting scheduled in mid June, his party’s questions on Colombia’s “war on drugs,” increased foreign investment and relationship with the United States will all likely to continue to foment calls for radical change. 

And as Petro accuses current President Álvaro Uribe’s party of wanting to postpone the elections, and with many Colombians unhappy with the status quo, Colombia is likely to remain on edge in the months to come.

Jerusalem Day “Flag March”

Information compiled by Jeff Landset

JIMMY: An Israeli nationalist parade is scheduled to pass through mostly Palestinian areas of Jerusalem on Sunday. That has officials warning of the potential for violence.

The parade comes on Jerusalem Day, an Israeli national holiday marking the reunification of East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem under the rule of Israel in 1967. 

The parade has increasingly been a flashpoint between right-wing Israeli nationalists and Jerusalem’s Muslim population. 

Last year, Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem during the march, sparking the 11-day war that led to hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries.

Now, left-wing lawmakers attacked the decision to hold the parade saying it could cause another escalation with Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups. And Hamas has threatened violence if the march route goes as planned. 

Still, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has remained defiant about the parade, calling it the “usual route.”

National strike planned in Belgium

Information compiled by Joe Veyera

JIMMY: A trio of Belgian trade unions will stage a “National Day of Action” on Tuesday, with transit expected to bear the brunt of the one-day work stoppage. 

Participating unions are calling for increased purchasing power and pensions for their members, along with a solution to staffing shortages that have impacted several sectors. 

The latest demonstrations come on the heels of protest actions earlier this year by teachers, who raised similar issues regarding salaries and workload. 

Now, the strike is expected to cause major disruptions to both bus and rail travel, with operators warning of reduced, if not entirely suspended service for the day. 

It’s unclear just how much of an impact the strike will have in other areas of the economy.

California water restrictions

Information compiled by Ahmed Namatalla

JIMMY: Drought is prompting officials in Southern California to impose limits on water use for local agencies starting on Wednesday. 

That, as Gov. Gavin Newsom warns of more sweeping restrictions if the state’s 39 million people don’t voluntarily cut consumption.

Of course, the most populous U.S. state is coming off one of the driest springs in decades, the season in which it normally accumulates water reserves to carry it through hot summer months. 

Despite Newsom urging conservation, Californians actually increased water use in March by 19 percent over the previous year, while government agencies are well short of their 15 percent reduction target.

Now, dry conditions are threatening the state with another devastating wildfire season. They’re also raising criticism of the Newsom administration. Some argue the administration’s conservation efforts are disproportionately aimed at residents, instead of water-intensive industries such as agriculture and fracking. 

Finally, Newsom, who’s still shaken by a recall vote last year, well, he’s scrambling to find an answer to the crisis without angering voters as he seeks reelection in November.

Battle of the Donbas

Information compiled by Alex Moore

JIMMY: Our last item for this forecast is an update on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. For more on that I spoke with our Europe desk lead Alex Moore.

JIMMY: Hi, Alex. 

ALEX: Hello, Jimmy. 

JIMMY: Well, Alex, today is the 92nd day of the war in Ukraine and while it looks like the fighting in the west of the country has lessened, it seems that’s not the case everywhere. What can you tell us about the current situation?

ALEX: Yeah, like you said, fighting in the West is essentially non-existent, notwithstanding the occasional missile strike. Russia is fully pulled out of the North – Kyiv, Chernihiv and Sumy. They are periodically bombing the border, but no infantry and in the South the conflict is largely frozen along some established front lines. There hasn’t really been any significant movement in the South, but in the East that is not the case whatsoever. Fighting has intensified steadily there, with Russia making slow but steady progress along a few significant axes nearly two months after they announced they were shifting focus to the Donbas region.

JIMMY: Well, speaking of the Donbas, what’s the latest in Mariupol?

ALEX: After months of brutal urban fighting in a prolonged siege, Russia officially completed the capture of Mariupol after the Azovstal steel plant, which was the last sort of vestige of pockets of Ukrainian resistance. It fell, so the former capital of the Ukraine-controlled Donetsk oblast has completely fallen to Russia, which is a significant victory for Russia for a litany of reasons, but more than just the obvious this has freed up significant pockets of Russian forces to go join offensives elsewhere.

JIMMY: Speaking of that, do we know where these next Russian offenses are likely to be? Or are they already underway? 

ALEX: They are indeed already underway. This week has seen pretty significant movement along multiple fronts. So in the Donbas, like I said, there are multiple fronts where Russia is making gains. They’re directly threatening to surround the Luhansk capital of Severodonetsk as they push from the South after capturing Popasna [and Rubizhne], up from the north. And they’re moving to try to sever the city. Now they’re attempting to take the main highway that leads to it from Bakhmut in the Donetsk region. And they are currently contesting that very heavily. Severing this highway link would – and joining the forces from the North – would completely isolate Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, which are significant pockets of Ukrainian forces. So that would be very bad news for the Ukrainians if that were to take place, and it appears that that could happen somewhat imminently. Russia has not yet launched the full assault on Bakhmut, but they are moving to cut off the highway further North from there, and an assault on Bakhmut looks like it could be happening in the near future. Speaking of Donetsk, they are continuing to push south from the large Izyum staging point, which is a city captured in Kharkiv while back. And they’re currently engaged in a large battle over Lyman, which is the last main, sort of, city standing between them and Slovyansk and Kramatorsk, which are the final two big population hubs remaining in Ukraine-controlled Donetsk. Outside of that, Avdiivka is also seeing heavy combat, which is a more or less frontline city along the previous frontlines from the 2014 invasion. It’s a city that Russia captured initially in 2014. The Ukrainians took it back and fought over ever since. So the Russians are trying to surround that city as well.

JIMMY: Well, other than watching out for more out Avdiivka, Severodonetsk and Lyman, what else should folks be watching for?

ALEX: Yeah, there are a couple other things that I sort of alluded to. One would be resumption of active frontline hostilities in the South in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. Like I said, the frontlines have been sort of frozen there with Russia consolidating control over Kherson and the Ukrainians successfully defending Mykolaiv a few months back. But there is a possibility that conflict could break out again, down there with the front lines fluctuating as well as the Enerhodar-Zaporizhzhia axis. So that’s something to watch for. Moreover, up north, as I sort of said, the Russians have been sort of probing the Sumy-Chernihiv border. I don’t know, I don’t think that they are planning to once again send forces there as they did for the Kyiv push, but it’s possible they could do something to try to distract from Ukrainian forces in the Donbas. Russia does still occupy chunks of Kharkiv Oblast. The Ukrainians have launched a series of successful counter attacks, north of Kharkiv city there. They’ve pushed, in some instances, all the way to the Russian border and have launched more strikes across the border in Belgorod Oblast, in Russia mainly, but what they haven’t been able to do is meaningfully, sort of, attack Russian supply lines from the rear, which is what they did north of Kyiv on a couple of instances, which sort of helped break the back of the Russian push towards Kyiv by severing the supply lines. They have not been able to do this in Kharkiv Oblast as the Russians are able to run supplies, logistics, resources and manpower to Izyum in southern Kharkiv. So that is something to watch for. And yeah, all in all, Ukraine is taking heavy casualties in the Donbas. So the next few weeks – that combined with the successes Russia is seeing – next few weeks could prove decisive in the Battle of Donbas.

JIMMY: Well, Alex, as always, I appreciate your help in getting our listeners caught up on the latest with the war. Thank you for the insight.

ALEX: Yeah, no worries. Thank you for having me, Jimmy. 

JIMMY: Take care.

JIMMY: Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Jaime Calle Moreno, Jeff Landset, Joe Veyera and Ahmed Namatalla. Our interview featured editor Alex Moore 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 hello@factal.com.

Lead photo: Crews investigate a building shelled in Mariupol, Ukraine, in March 2022, in the early days of Russia’s invasion. Russia has completed its capture of the city. (Photo: Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine / Facebook)

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