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Forecast Podcast: Ukraine strikes psychological blow to Russia with Crimea attacks

This satellite image of a military air port in Crimea shows significant damage to the main building and some outbuildings and several protective bunkers for fighter jets. The two runways have scattered debris but little damage.

Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Alex Moore discuss the attacks in Crimea in recent weeks, plus more on a meeting concerning Sweden and Finland’s efforts to join NATO, the Nord Stream 1 pipeline shutting down for maintenance, Shanghai reopening schools and Kosovo implementing a controversial license plate measure.

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These stories and others are also available in our free weekly Forecast newsletter.

This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Owen Bonertz, Sophie Perryer, Jaime Calle Moreno and Alex Moore.  Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

Note: The podcast will be taking next week off, so our next episode will be out September 8. In the meantime, be sure to follow us on Twitter where we’ll still be posting breaking news.

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


Factal Forecast 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 August 25.

In this week’s forecast we’ve got a meeting concerning Sweden and Finland’s efforts to join NATO, the Nord Stream 1 pipeline shutting down for maintenance, Shanghai reopening schools, Kosovo implementing a controversial license plate measure and a look at the recent attacks in Crimea. 

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

Turkey, Sweden and Finland meet on NATO application

Information compiled by Owen Bonertz

JIMMY: Representatives from Turkey, Sweden and Finland will meet on Friday. They’ll be negotiating on what exactly the Nordic nations must concede for Turkey to approve their prospective NATO membership.

Turkey initially opposed Sweden and Finland joining NATO on the grounds that they have supposedly harbored Turkish fugitives with ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party and the Gülenist movement. 

Expanding NATO requires unanimous approval, so while a majority of members have given their blessing, Turkey holds a veto. 

The three countries reached a breakthrough agreement in June that involves the extradition of Turkish fugitives — including 73 people from Sweden — and the lifting of a 2019 arms embargo on Turkey.

Now, during this week’s meeting, the three nations are expected to continue discussions on the deal’s particulars, including exactly how many Turkish citizens could be extradited. 

Sweden alone is home to an estimated 100,000 Kurds

The United States could also step in on behalf of Sweden and Finland and agree to sell Turkey advanced fighter jets, despite previous commitments not to

Finally, Turkey has flirted with the idea of another incursion into Syria and it is possible Turkey will leverage NATO allies to gain tacit support.

Nord Stream 1 pipeline maintenance

Information compiled by Sophie Perryer

JIMMY: Russia’s Gazprom will shut down the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline for three days of maintenance starting Wednesday. The shut down has sparked concerns that a scarcity of supply will send gas prices soaring higher.

Of course, the pipeline, which carries gas from Russia to Germany, is currently operating at just 20 percent of its full capacity. 

Russia said the reduction is due to Western sanctions hampering repairs to key equipment, a claim Germany disputes, arguing instead that Russia is using gas as a foreign policy bargaining chip in its war strategy in Ukraine. 

Now, while Gazprom said it will restore supply after the three days of maintenance, analysts are concerned Russia could use technical difficulties as a pretext to extend the shutdown. 

Such a move would cause gas prices in Europe to rise beyond already high levels, in turn spiking inflation and raising the risk of recession.

Shanghai reopens schools

Information compiled by Jaime Calle Moreno

JIMMY: Students across Shanghai will return to in-person classes on Thursday, with schools set to open months after closing.

Schools across the city have been closed since March as part of China’s zero coronavirus policy and the ensuing lockdown in April and May during the country’s worst outbreak. 

While some middle school and high school students returned in June, others remained remote. 

Students and teachers will be required to undergo a two-week “self-health evaluation” before returning to school and will have to take daily coronavirus tests before returning home from classes.

Now, while this is a step toward easing restrictions in China’s main finance hub, many are still worried another lockdown could be issued. Especially in light of reports of a shopping center being shut down in mid-August and several residential areas sealed off. 

Still, with higher accessibility to testing through the end of the September, the hope remains that schools can now stay open.

Kosovo implements license plate plan

Information compiled by Alex Moore

JIMMY: Kosovo will implement controversial measures impacting license plates and identification cards for ethnic Serbs on Thursday.

Originally set to begin a month ago, the plans were postponed after tensions broke out along Kosovo’s border with Serbia, with gunfire and road barricades along multiple sectors. 

Kosovo, which declared independence from Belgrade in 2008 and remains partially recognized, is seeking to mirror Serbian measures by forcing Serbs visiting Kosovo to obtain additional identification to enter the country along with mandating ethnic Serbs in Kosovo acquire Kosovar license plates.

Now, the upcoming deadline follows EU-backed talks in Brussels. Talks that involved both heads of state, but failed to achieve a breakthrough

And with talks failing, and long-running EU-backed normalization talks continuing to stall, the risk of a repeat of last month’s tensions appears likely.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic already warned that Belgrade will move to protect ethnic Serbs in Kosovo if it has to, while the NATO peacekeeping mission said it will increase its presence if necessary. 

Crimea attacks

Information compiled by Alex Moore

JIMMY: Our last item for this forecast is the recent attacks in Crimea. For more on that I spoke with our Europe desk lead Alex Moore. 

JIMMY: Hi, Alex. 

ALEX: Hello, Jimmy.

JIMMY: Well, Alex, it’s been six months since Russia’s full invasion of Ukraine, but it seems like these recent attacks in Crimea stand out quite a bit. Can you catch us up to speed on them? You know, what exactly went down? 

ALEX: Yes, you are correct to point out that they stand out a bit. The last two weeks has witnessed, sort of, the first systematic targeting of Crimea, which was occupied and annexed by Russia, of course, back in 2014. So, beginning August 9, we’ve witnessed, sort of, a spate of explosions. The first one, arguably the most, the biggest one, most impactful –  a large explosion rocked Saki Airbase and destroyed seven or eight Russian jets. And more blasts followed after that – an ammo depot in north Crimea cooked off after an explosion and on a handful of occasions at least a half dozen Russian air defense has been activated over Crimea, across multiple locations. There’s been Sevastopol, on a handful of occasions, where one drone strike successfully hit the Black Sea Fleet headquarters, actually, for Russia, which is the naval force responsible for the Ukrainian area of operations for the most part. But there have been other ones as well, including over Kerch in the Kerch Strait, where air defense intercepted a drone over the Crimean Bridge, which is sort of the symbol of Russian occupation of Crimea. It’s where the Kerch Strait incident in 2018 happened, which was, sort of, the first time in the course of the war that, you know, uniformed Russian soldiers and uniformed Ukrainian soldiers shot at each other. So a lot happening in Crimea. 

JIMMY: That’s got to be a pretty big success for Ukraine then, right? 

ALEX: Yeah, and it should be noted that they haven’t exactly taken responsibility. They’ve been, sort of, I don’t wanna say tight lipped, but, um, there have been a handful of reports that indicate that the attacks are the work of the Ukrainian forces. Now, the question there is how exactly they’ve done this. So, you know, there have been a series of reports in major US media citing Ukrainian officials saying that it’s done through sabotage – of saboteurs that are in Crimea. I consider this to be the most likely one: That we’ve got teams of Ukrainians in Crimea that are, sort of like, flying small drones and dropping explosives on these places. I think the abundance of air defense activity over places like Sevastopol over the past couple of weeks, sort of, makes that theory makes sense to me. But, you know, most people, they’re sort of jumping to HIMARS, the US-built missile system that Ukraine’s used to pretty devastating effect against Russian targets behind Russian lines in occupied portions of Ukraine. The problem with that theory is that the specific ordnance for the HIMARS launchers that the US has given Ukraine, at least publicly, does not range any of the places that are getting hit with these explosions. So you can cross that out. Now, it’s possible that the US is lying; it’s possible that a third country has given Ukraine ATACMS, the longer range HIMAR missiles. We don’t know. I would consider that to be very unlikely, though, because Russia is very keen to, sort of, paint this as a war with the US and NATO just as much as it is with Ukraine. So, what you see with Russian officials is they’re extremely quick – anytime a Ukrainian strike happens behind lines – they automatically call it HIMARS, even if it isn’t. But yeah, there’s also the smaller possibility that – in recent it has sort of come out that the US has given Ukraine this air-launch missile that locks in on radar, there has been some chatter that that could have possibly been used for this, but I doubt that, too.

ALEX: Have these attacks impacted the direction of the war?

ALEX: Yeah, so they have. You know, sort of a twofold effect, both militarily and psychologically. So psychologically, it’s sort of like, you know, this obvious dichotomy where Crimea is, you know, nice beaches, Russians vacation there, especially during the summer when it’s nice out, they go to the beach, and now they’re seeing, you know, air bases and ammo depots cooking off right in front of their faces as they’re trying to get a suntan. So, sort of putting the reality of the war right in front of their face like that is an obvious, obvious loss for the Kremlin. But militarily, it sort of fits within this broader Ukrainian campaign to disrupt Russian efforts to supply and bolster forces occupying the south of Ukraine – so, Kherson region, Zaporizhzhia region. 

JIMMY: Well, considering all that, what do you think folks should be watching for next? 

ALEX: Well, yeah, like I was saying, this campaign to sort of degrade Russia’s ability to resupply and bolster their forces that are on the frontlines in the south and are currently engaged in pretty heavy fighting, specifically in the Kherson region, along like a 60-mile front. I think most people are sort of anticipating at some point Ukraine will try to launch a counteroffensive. They have been obviously talking about it quite a bit. You could argue that time isn’t on their side, considering their ability to do that is reliant heavily upon Western support, which is going to be finite. So you could argue the longer they wait, the worse off they are. They also want to integrate, you know, all these new weapons systems they’re getting from the West into their battle doctrine, which takes time – takes time to train them. But no matter how you slice it, the campaign is going to be pretty difficult. Russia still has advantages. I mean, they’re playing defense, They’ve had time to dig. They’ve been occupying Kherson, for example, since, like, March 1. And they still possess just a massive numerical advantage in things like artillery and stuff, that are going to make it extremely costly and difficult for Ukraine to advance. And then there’s the fact, of course, that, you know, we’ve seen Russia struggle heavily, you know, playing offense in this war. You know, their logistical issues, their troubles fighting combined arms formations –  those are well documented from the push to Kiev, but we haven’t seen Ukraine do that at all. So if Russia is struggling with it, Ukraine certainly will. You know, there’s not going to be that combined arms effort that makes taking territory easy. So, definitely worth watching the southern theater of Ukraine in the next couple of months to see what happens there. 

JIMMY: Well, Alex, I think we’re going to end it there, but I thank you for your insight on all this. Really appreciate it. 

ALEX: Yeah, no problem. Thanks, Jimmy. 

JIMMY: Take care.

JIMMY: One quick note before you go, our podcast will be taking next week off, so our next episode will be out September 8th. 

In the meantime, be sure to follow us on Twitter where we’ll still be posting breaking news.

And as always, thank you for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast and newsletter each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. Please subscribe and review wherever you find your podcasts. We’d love it if you’d consider telling a friend about us.  

Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Owen Bonertz, Sophie Perryer, Jaime Calle Moreno and Alex Moore. Our interview featured editor Alex Moore and our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

Until next time, if you have any 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. 

Copyright © 2022 Factal. All rights reserved.

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