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Forecast Podcast: Sri Lanka halts non-essential fuel sales as economic crisis spirals

A man, either seated or riding a bicycle, is in focus. The photo is of his back as he looks at a bus on a Colombo, Sri Lanka road.

Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Jeff Landset discuss the fuel crisis underway in Sri Lanka, plus more on Turkey and Armenia working to normalize relations, WNBA star Brittney Griner’s trial in Russia, U.S. Independence Day and French unions calling for a national rail strike.

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, Alex Moore, Joe Veyera, Sophie Perryer and Jeff Landset.  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 June 30th.

In this week’s forecast we’ve got Turkey and Armenia working to normalize relations, basketball star Brittney Griner’s trial in Russia, U.S. Independence Day, French unions calling for a national rail strike and an update on the fuel crisis underway in Sri Lanka. 

You can also read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you can find a link to in the show notes.

New round of Turkey-Armenia normalization talks

Information compiled by Jaime Calle Moreno

JIMMY: Government representatives from Turkey and Armenia will head to Vienna on Friday. They’re meeting for a fourth round of talks aimed at normalizing ties between the two countries, which have never had formal diplomatic relations.

Turkish ambassador Serdar Kiliç and Armenian deputy speaker Ruben Rubinyan have met three times since December. 

Meanwhile, with no preconditions for the meetings, commercial flights connecting the two countries began on February 2nd, in an attempt to drive the relationship forward. 

The last meeting in Antalya, Turkey, was deemed “extremely fruitful and constructive” by Turkey’s foreign minister.

Now, Turkey and Armenia have a tumultuous historical relationship. The ongoing Azerbaijan conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region since 1993 has not only exacerbated it, but also left landlocked Armenia with a large part of its borders closed entirely. 

Finally, while the normalization process has been attempted twice before, with few results, if it goes ahead this time around it could have a large impact. It would open Armenia’s economy and trade routes to Turkish produce and would impact Russia’s overarching influence over the country.

Brittney Griner’s criminal trial begins

Information compiled by Alex Moore

JIMMY: American basketball superstar Brittney Griner’s criminal trial will begin Friday in Moscow. She’s been detained in Russia for more than four months.

Griner, who’s one of the world’s most famous women’s basketball players and a gold medalist with Team USA, was detained by Russian authorities in mid-February under suspicion of smuggling narcotics. 

The arrest prompted searing criticism from WNBA and NBA and stars alike. In part, because Griner’s detention came amid soaring tensions between Russia and the West during Russia’s massive troop buildup which preceded its full invasion of Ukraine.

Now, the U.S. State Department has classified Griner as wrongfully detained, meaning the department’s hostage affairs team is responsible for negotiating her release. 

If convicted, Griner faces up to a decade in Russian prison and she is likely to remain behind bars for the duration of a trial – a process which can be painstakingly long in Russia. 

And while it has been reported that the United States is mulling swapping notorious Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout for Griner, such a trade is complicated by multiple factors, including Russia’s willingness and the status of American Paul Whelan. 

Whelan was previously considered as a swap for the Russian arms dealer. He was sentenced to 16 years in Russia for espionage in 2020.

U.S. Independence Day

Information compiled by Joe Veyera

JIMMY: US Independence Day is quickly approaching and nearly 48 million people are expected to travel over the July 4th weekend. 

That total is nearly on par with pre-pandemic levels. And of that figure, almost 90 percent are forecast to hit the road in spite of record-high gas prices.

So-called “revenge travel” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic has fueled a surge in trips. So much so, the Transportation Security Administration logged its highest screening figures for air passengers last week since February of 2020.

The uptick in demand has also come with an increase in flight cancellations and other operational woes. The industry is grappling with significant staffing shortages after senior employees were encouraged to take buyouts or early retirements in the early days of the pandemic.

Now, the possible hurdles have done little to dampen travel plans in the leadup to the long weekend. 

Thursday and Friday afternoon are expected to be the busiest days for drivers, with Friday the top day for air travel.

French unions call national rail strike

Information compiled by Sophie Perryer

JIMMY: Three of France’s largest rail unions have called a one-day strike for Wednesday. That’s the day before French schools are due to break for summer vacation.

In a joint statement, the three unions said the strike action was to demand an increase in pay to allow workers to cope with rising inflation. 

All lines run by the state rail operator SNCF will be affected by the strike action. A limited timetable is set to be published Tuesday evening.

Now, a roundtable discussion between union leaders and SNCF management is scheduled for the day of the strike. 

Still, additional industrial action is possible if a compromise on wage increases cannot be reached. That would further complicate travel in France over the busy summer vacation period, as airport staff and cabin crew are also expected to strike.

Sri Lanka fuel crisis

Information compiled by Jeff Landset

JIMMY: Our last item for this forecast is on the fuel crisis underway in Sri Lanka. For more on that I spoke with Factal Editor Jeff Landset.

JIMMY: Hi, Jeff. 

JEFF: Hi, Jimmy, how are you? 

JIMMY: I’m well, thank you. You know, Imana was on the podcast just a couple of months ago talking about the economic crisis in Sri Lanka and now we’re talking about a fuel crisis. I guess to start, can you tell us a little bit about what exactly is going on with the fuel situation? Is this related to the economic issues Sri Lanka has been facing?

JEFF: Yeah, Jimmy, it’s directly related. This is the middle of the country’s worst ever economic crisis since gaining independence from Britain in 1948. And so now they’re taking extreme measures to mitigate this fuel shortage. Colombo has ordered the closure of schools; they’ve urged people to work from home for two weeks. They also say vehicles that are deemed essential can only gas up, so those are vehicles used for medical services and those that are transporting food.

JIMMY: You know, I have to imagine a halt to fuel sales is going to be quite a harrowing burden for Sri Lankans. But even then, is limiting gas and diesel sales for two weeks going to be enough to keep them from running out?

JEFF: Probably not, Jimmy. A Reuters calculation found that Sri Lanka’s fuel supply will be exhausted in days based on regular demand. It may already be exhausted by the time you hear this.

JIMMY: Any ideas what options they might have if they do exhaust supplies?

JEFF: So, right now they are hitting up countries like Russia and Qatar for oil. They’ve sent government ministers to those countries to try to secure new sources of fuel. So you can tell that they are desperate for more fuel.

JIMMY: Well, in addition to just watching for fuel deliveries and gas lines, what else should folks be keeping an eye out for?

JEFF: Right, so this fuel isn’t just a transportation problem, it’s also a food problem because cooking fuel is also [been] affected and the country is dealing with food shortages at the moment. So if the fuel supply does run out, 22 million residents of the country may become even more desperate. You know, if people don’t have a way to get to work, or they don’t have food to eat, it could spur larger and more deadly protests. That could also lead to a change in government. The opposition leader in that country has called for resignations for days now.

JIMMY: Well, Jeff, that’s all the time we have for today, but I thank you for getting us up to speed on the situation. Between the economic crisis, the political crisis, and now this fuel crisis, kind of feels like the country is getting dangerously close to a humanitarian crisis. And that’s certainly a concerning situation. So appreciate the update. 

JEFF: No problem. 

JIMMY: Take care

JIMMY: Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Jaime Calle Moreno, Alex Moore, Joe Veyera and Sophie Perryer. Our interview featured editor Jeff Landset 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

This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed. 

Top Photo: Colombo by _SoFie (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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