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Forecast: Russia hosts military drills, Kosovo implements license plate plan, and ex-Pakistani PM Khan goes to court

First row: Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu Minister of Foreign Affairs of Türkiye, Pekka Haavisto Minister of Foreign Affairs of Finland, and Ann Linde of Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden Second row: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Türkiye, President Sauli Niinistö of Finland and Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of Sweden

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.

A series of explosions have rocked Russian-occupied Crimea recently, signaling possible changes in Ukraine’s strike capabilities. In this week’s Factal Forecast podcast, Senior Editor Jimmy Lovaas and Editor Alex Moore discuss how the strikes may be a precursor to a Ukrainian counteroffensive and a blow to Russia both militarily and psychologically.

Listen now or download on your favorite platform. 

Week of Aug. 26 – Sept. 2
A Look Ahead

Aug. 26 – Turkey, Sweden and Finland meet on NATO application

Representatives from Turkey, Sweden and Finland will meet Friday to negotiate exactly what the Nordic nations must concede for Turkey to approve their NATO membership.

What’s happened so far 
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 tentative 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.

The impact 
During this week’s meeting, the three nations will continue discussions around the deal’s details, 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 Finland and Sweden 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 support. 

Aug. 29 – NASA moon mission launch

NASA’s most powerful lift vehicle, the Space Launch System, is set to launch from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center for the first time ever Monday as part of the Artemis I mission.

What’s happened so far 
NASA has approved a two-hour launch window at 8:33 a.m. ET Monday. After multiple delays, a successful launch would move NASA closer to the goal of a crewed moon landing in this decade.

The impact
The closely watched mission is an important test for the new launch vehicle and spacecraft meant to spearhead NASA’s effort to return astronauts to the Moon. If the Artemis I mission goes to plan, the Orion will orbit the Moon before returning to Earth on Oct 10. Though future missions could have a crew, this first mission is unmanned.

Aug. 30 – Russia military drills

Six months after the large-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia will begin holding its quadrennial military exercises on the other side of the country Tuesday.

What’s happened so far 
Since the beginning of the Ukraine war in February, more than 75,000 Russian troops have been killed or wounded, according to a report given to U.S. lawmakers. The last time the drills were held in 2018, experts called it the country’s largest since a 1981 Cold War drill. Like last time, these war games will also draw on soldiers from other countries, most notably China and India

The impact  
Despite the heavy losses caused by the invasion of Ukraine, Moscow is intent on showing that its military can still defend the country. Russian President Vladimir Putin may also be using the drills to shore up relations with Beijing at a time when the country has lost standing with the West in addition to military strength.

Aug. 31 – Pakistan’s Khan summoned to court

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has been summoned to appear in court Tuesday to respond to contempt charges connected to threats he made to a local judge during a rally last weekend.

What’s happened so far 
The former premier was charged under the country’s anti-terrorism legislation Sunday following a rally in Islamabad against the recent arrest of one of his top aides. During the rally, Khan alleged his aide was tortured while in detention and threatened legal action against senior police officers and a judge involved in the arrest. The police report described his actions as a deliberate attempt at intimidating Pakistani judiciary and law enforcement. 

The impact 
Khan has been granted protective bail until Thursday. His party, PTI, also faces a ban from the country’s media watchdog on live broadcasts of Khan’s rallies. Despite this apparent crackdown, Khan’s supporters have vowed to stand by his side — raising concerns for civil unrest if he is arrested — as the country’s months-long power struggle escalates. A conviction for Khan would result in a lifetime ban from Pakistani politics.

Aug. 31 – Nord Stream 1 pipeline maintenance

Russia’s Gazprom will shut down the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline for three days of maintenance starting Wednesday, sparking concerns that a scarcity of supply will send gas prices soaring further. 

What’s happened so far 
The Nord Stream 1 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. 

The impact 
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.

Sept. 1 – Kosovo implements license plate plan

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

What’s happened so far 
Originally set to go into force a month ago, the plans were postponed after gunfire broke out and road barricades were erected along multiple sections of Kosovo’s border with Serbia. Pristina, 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. 

The impact 
The approaching deadline follows EU-backed talks in Brussels involving both heads of state that failed to achieve a breakthrough. 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. 

Sept. 1 – Shanghai reopens schools

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

What’s happened so far 
Since March, schools across the city have been closed as part of China’s zero-coronavirus policy and the ensuing lockdown in April and May during the country’s worst outbreak. While some high and middle schoolers returned in June, others remained remote. Students and teachers are 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.

The impact 
While this is a step toward easing restrictions in China’s main finance hub, many are still worried another lockdown could be issued, with reports of a shopping center being shut down in mid-August and several residential areas sealed off. With higher accessibility to testing through the end of the September, the hope remains that schools can now stay open.

Sept. 1 – New York State establishes ‘gun free’ areas

A wide swath of “sensitive locations” across the Empire State will become gun-free zones starting Thursday, as legislation passed in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling that struck down its earlier handgun licensing law takes effect.  

What’s happened so far 
The Supreme Court ruled in June that a state law requiring applicants for a firearm license to have a “proper cause” to carry a gun outside of their homes violated the second amendment. In response, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul called a special session for the legislature to pass new measures, using guidance from the court to ban guns in places like government buildings, schools and houses of worship, even for permit holders. Also taking effect are stronger permitting requirements, including a mandatory 16 hours of in-person training for concealed carry applicants. 

The impact 
The new legislation will almost certainly face a court challenge, with opponents arguing the definition of “sensitive location” is overly broad. The result of those cases will likely serve as a measuring stick for just how far states can go to enact their own gun control measures.

What Else Matters

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.
Satellite images captured by Planet Labs shows significant damage at Russia’s Saki Air base in Crimea after an explosion Aug. 9, 2022. (Photo: Planet Labs PBC)

Crimea attacks

The Crimean Peninsula, occupied by Russia since being annexed in 2014, has witnessed a spate of explosions beginning in early August, when a blast rocked Saki Air Base, destroying multiple Russian warplanes. More blasts followed, most notably destroying an ammunition depot on the peninsula. Russian air defenses have been activated over Crimea on multiple occasions over the past two weeks, including in Kerch and Sevastopol, where a drone struck Moscow’s Black Sea Fleet headquarters. Although Ukraine hasn’t officially taken responsibility, reports indicate the attacks are the work of Ukrainian forces, either through sabotage, drones or possibly even air-launched American missiles.

Watch for: The attacks present the reality of the war to Russians vacationing on the beaches of Crimea. From a military standpoint, targeting Crimea can be situated within a broader Ukrainian campaign to disrupt Russian efforts to supply and bolster forces occupying Ukraine’s south. This campaign can be viewed as a precursor to a widely anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive in the occupied southern regions. While Ukraine has telegraphed the counteroffensive, the campaign may prove difficult for a variety of reasons, including Russia rotating forces to Kherson from the east.

Turkish involvement in northern Syria

Last week, forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar Assad struck a market in the northern city of al-Bab, currently being held by pro-Turkish militias. Damascus said this strike, which killed at least seven people and injured more than 20, was in retaliation for an earlier strike by Turkish forces on a regime military base in the Ain Al-Arab countryside. This week marks the most intense cross-border fighting since June, when Turkey announced a new military operation in northern Syria, further extending its control after seizing large swathes of the Syria in late 2019.

Watch for: Despite an increase in cross-border fighting, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said last week that Ankara “does not have eyes on the territory of Syria,” claiming Turkey’s is solely focused on fighting Kurdish groups. This marks a shift in policy in Ankara, which previously sought to oust Syria’s Assad and is no longer ruling out dialogue with Damascus. On the ground, however, Turkey has continued to send forces across the border, from areas west of regime-controlled Aleppo to Kurdish-held cities along the northern contact line. Analysts believe Turkey is signaling that the prospect of dialogue with Damascus is “conditional to jointly fighting the Kurds.”

Ecuador prisoner census

Ecuador started the first prisoner census of its history Monday in an effort to lower crime inside the country’s prisons and following recommendations by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights to tackle the country’s prisons crisis. Between 32,000 and 35,000 people are currently incarcerated across Ecuador’s jails despite the maximum capacity of jails nationwide being 30,000. At least 13,000 people are currently imprisoned as a provisional measure awaiting sentence. Ecuador’s poorly managed judicial and penitentiary system — jails are overcrowded, short-staffed and lack basic conditions of infrastructure and medical assistance — and the influence of criminal organizations inside jails have resulted in significant violence in recent years with at least 400 people killed in jail riots since 2020.

Watch for: The census will be completed in approximately three months and, in the process, Ecuadoran officials expect to gather knowledge about the prisoner population to design measures that help improve living conditions, fill the gaps for medical care and reinforce staffing levels. Through this move the government is trying to solve a human rights crisis that gains international relevance with every new riot, but its main goal is to reinforce the role of the state and to regain control of prisons from the criminal groups connected to drug-trafficking networks in Peru and Colombia. 

Extended Outlook

What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…

Aug. 28-Sept. 2

Aug. 28

  • Iberia Express crew begin 10-day strike
  • Pope Francis visits the Italian town of Aquila

Aug. 29

  • EU informal meeting of defense ministers
  • U.S. Open begins
  • NASA launches moon mission
  • Singapore to drop mask requirements

Aug. 30

  • Human Rights Council meeting
  • EU foreign ministers meeting in Prague
  • Russian military drills begin
  • Iraq Supreme Court decision on dissolving parliament

Aug. 31

  • EU foreign ministers meeting
  • G20 environmental and climate ministerial meeting
  • Pakistan’s Khan to appear in court
  • Nord Stream 1 pipeline maintenance 

Sept. 1

  • European Parliament president visits Portugal
  • Kosovo ID measure enters effect
  • Lithuania’s largest bank to stop accepting payments from Russia
  • Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador gives state of the union
  • Shanghai reopens schools

Sept. 2

  • Russia holds VII Eastern Economic Forum

Sept. 3-9

Sept. 4

  • Chile referendum on new constitution

Sept. 5

  • New UK PM and Conservative Party leader announcement
  • Apple “return to office” deadline
  • OPEC+ meeting

Sept. 6

  • Boris Johnson resignation 
  • Scotland school staff strike

Sept. 7

  • North Korea Supreme People’s Assembly meeting
  • Japan eases coronavirus border controls
  • Brazil’s independence bicentennial
  • Apple launch event

Sept. 8

  • NFL season start
  • Toronto International Film Festival begins

Sept. 10-16

Sept. 10

  • Conservative Party of Canada leadership election

Sept. 11

  • Sweden general election

Sept. 12

  • Israel to advance E1 settlement in Area C of the West Bank

Sept. 13

  • UN General Assembly
  • Primaries in Delaware, New Hampshire and Rhode Island

Sept. 14

  • Pope Francis attends Congress of Religions in Kazakhstan

Sept. 15

  • Party lists due in Israel’s Knesset
  • Biden gun violence summit

Sept. 17-24

Sept. 20

  • Chad peace talks
  • Massachusetts primaries
  • U.S. Fed policy meeting

Sept. 23r

  • Ontario school workers strike

Sept. 24

  • UK Labour party conference
  • Arizona abortion law enters effect

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