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Forecast: New earthquakes rattle Turkey and Syria, world marks one year since Ukraine invasion, and California ends coronavirus state of emergency

Joe Biden and Volodymyr Zelenskyy walk up steps in a government building. They are flanked by security.

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 new 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck southern Turkey near the Syrian border this week, killing at least eight people and injuring hundreds more. In this week’s Factal Forecast podcast, Senior Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Halima Mansoor discuss how millions of people displaced by recent earthquakes now face months of homelessness as governments scramble to secure housing.

Listen now or download on your favorite platform. 

Week of February 24-March 3
A Look Ahead

Feb. 24 – One-year anniversary of full invasion of Ukraine

Friday marks the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full invasion of Ukraine and comprehensive war settlements remain elusive.

What’s happened so far 
In February 2022, Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine eight years after annexing Crimea and invading Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. While failing in its attempt to capture the capital Kyiv, the war continues to be extremely active along the frontlines from Ukraine’s east to its south. Ukraine’s Education Ministry has also urged all schools to go remote coinciding with the anniversary in preparation for possible Russian missile strikes well past the frontlines.

The impact 
Russia’s widely anticipated offensive in Ukraine’s east has begun in earnest, with heavy clashes ongoing across multiple fronts of the line of contact, including over the key city of Bakhmut. In a state of the nation speech earlier this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin also announced that Russia would suspend its involvement in New START, the final remaining treaty between the United States and Moscow regulating each other’s respective strategic nuclear forces. While Russia’s Foreign Ministry indicated that Moscow would continue to operate within the treaty’s nuclear force limits, the suspension marks another blow to the treaty’s inspections regime as well as broader attempts at arms control between the two sides.

Feb. 25 – Nigeria general election

On Saturday, Nigerians will elect their new president and representatives for parliament in a vote that is expected to be close and contested.

What’s happened so far 
The vote is taking place amid a climate of violence with a surge of gang activity, especially kidnappings of civilians, and attacks from Islamist and separatist groups in the country. One of voters’ main concerns is economic insecurity caused by an inflation of more than 21 percent, high levels of unemployment and a cash crisis. This election will also be counted by new technology implemented by the National Electoral Commission to avoid electoral fraud.

The impact 
More than 93 million people registered to vote will choose between 18 presidential candidates with three main favorites in opinion polls: Bola Ahmed Tinubu of All Progressives Congress, Atiku Abubakar of People’s Democratic Party and Peter Obi of the Labour Party. For the first time since the country’s return to democratic rule, the election features no incumbents or former military leaders. Some 469 parliament seats, including senators and members of the House of Representatives, are also up for a vote. A runoff will take place on March 11, along with the state governors election, if no candidate reaches the necessary majority.

Feb. 27 – SpaceX launches rocket to dock at ISS

SpaceX will launch a crew of four astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) from NASA headquarters in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Monday.

What’s happened so far 
Founded in 2002 with the goal of colonizing Mars, SpaceX has grown to become a massive U.S. government contractor. The company launched 61 rockets in 2022 alone, the majority of which carried satellites for the Starlink wireless internet project. In April 2022, it launched the first private manned trip to the ISS, a permanent orbiting research hub, continuously occupied since 2000.

The impact 
The upcoming launch will transport two NASA astronauts, one Russian and an Emirati. The quartet will make the fourth journey of the Dragon Endeavor spacecraft propelled by Falcon 9 rocket technology. SpaceX’s Falcon rockets have experienced only one failure in more than 200 missions. SpaceX is contracted for future U.S. Space Forcemoon rover and ISS missions and has publicly stated that they intend to launch a manned Mars mission by the end of the decade, though Elon Musk and his companies have been known to overpromise.

Feb. 27 – Serbia and Kosovo meet in Brussels  

Serbian and Kosovan officials are expected to meet with European Union officials in Brussels on Monday to try to reach a normalizing deal between the two countries.

What’s happened so far 
Joseph Borrell, the EU high representative for foreign affairs, invited Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic for the meeting. Officials will present an 11-point action plan in hopes the two countries finally reach a deal just days after Kosovo celebrated 15 years of independence. Kurti recently said he was “very optimistic” a deal would be reached this year, while claiming Serbia has isolated itself by expressing pro-Russian sentiment in the aftermath of its invasion of Ukraine.

The impact 
Tensions remain high in Kosovo’s north where minority Serbs refuse to accept the country’s independence. As recently as late last year, Serbia put forces on highest combat alert after violence broke out in Kosovo between police and minority Serb protesters. Thanks to EU mediation, barricades were lifted shortly after, but sporadic reports of clashes during protests continue to erupt.

Feb. 28 – California ends its coronavirus state of emergency 

After almost three years, California will put an end Tuesday to the statewide emergency declared in March 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic.

What’s happened so far 
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in October 2022 that California would end its state of emergency in February, one month after President Joe Biden announced the nationwide emergency will end this coming May. According to state records, more than 60 percent of the state’s population is vaccinated with two shots of a coronavirus vaccine. With deaths and hospitalizations reduced, the governor said the state is ready to continue fighting coronavirus with the infrastructure and processes built during the last few years.

The impact 
California’s emergency declaration has been the basis of more than 500 policy measures currently in place, and the state’s government has released a statewide plan for moving into the next phase of the pandemic. Officials are now aiming to treat coronavirus as a “manageable issue”’ rather than a crisis. This phaseout is not only reflective of the progress of the coronavirus pandemic in California, but also indicative of how officials and the public will go on approaching the pandemic in the United States as a whole. 

Feb. 28 – Finland parliament votes on NATO ratification

Finland’s parliament is set to vote Tuesday to ratify the country’s bid to join NATO, marking the end of the country’s application process ahead of a break-up for elections.

What’s happened so far 
Finland and Sweden decided to end their decades of neutrality shortly after the Ukraine war began, citing increased threats from neighboring Russia. The membership of both countries was welcomed by the majority of the alliance, but Turkey has threatened to block Sweden, accusing it of harboring Kurdish militant groups. Finland’s defense minister recently signaled that his country would join NATO if Turkey held up Sweden’s bid, a move that has provoked criticism from Sweden.

The impact 
The vote is expected to pass easily, with all but one of the country’s parliamentary parties supporting the accession, according to public broadcaster YLE. It will then be down to Hungary and Turkey to ratify the bid with hopes that both countries quickly ratify the Nordic neighbors.

Feb. 28 – SCOTUS hearing Biden student loan debt arguments  

The United States’ highest court will hear arguments Tuesday on whether it is legal for the government to erase billions of dollars of student loan debt.

What’s happened so far 
Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the United States has paused payments on student loans. In August, President Joe Biden announced a plan to forgive up to $20,000 of student loan debt for most borrowers. Lower courts have stopped the plan from taking effect by saying the Department of Education doesn’t have the legal authority to cancel these debts. 

The impact 
Whatever the Republican-controlled court decides, it will have large impacts on the American people as well as the judicial branch of the government. A majority of borrowers say they may not be able to afford to resume their loan payments when they’re set to restart in June. A decision against Biden could also give states the “standing to challenge almost any federal policy,” according to the solicitor general. That could lead to nearly every major political policy being decided before the Supreme Court.

What Else Matters

Aerial photo of a neighborhood in Turkey with about 80% of the buildings collapsed. Only two buildings standing appear to have little damage.
Aerial photos captured during U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit show the extent of damage in Turkey’s Hatay province on Feb. 19 following a series of devastating earthquakes on Feb. 6. (Photo: U.S. State Department / Ron Przysucha)

Flooding in São Paulo

Over the weekend, the northern coast of São Paulo, Brazil, received the highest amount of precipitation the country has ever recorded. The heavy rain has caused flooding and numerous landslides, which have led to the death of at least 46 people and left another 40 missing, with numbers expected to rise as the storms continue. The municipality of São Sebastião has been particularly affected, receiving a large brunt of the rain and displacing up to 2,000 people while also leaving roads blocked and certain areas inaccessible. 

Watch for: Search and rescue operations will continue as ongoing rain undoubtedly deteriorates the situation further. States of emergency have already been declared across the coastline, with authorities maintaining an eye on the Paraíba do Sul river and reservoir, which could help alleviate the level of flooding downstream. Landslides will also likely continue to be an issue as the soil and ground becomes more affected. 

Aftershocks in Turkey-Syria 

Two weeks after two massive earthquakes devastated areas of southern Turkey near the Syrian border, a magnitude 6.4 earthquake shook the same region, shortly followed by a 5.8 quake, both originating in Hatay. So far, the losses are still being assessed, with six people dead, nearly 300 injured in the Hatay earthquakes and more than 42,000 killed and over 860,000 living in tents in Turkey following the Feb. 6. earthquakes. In nearby Syria, more than 3,500 people have died.

Watch for: Around 448,000 people were evacuated from Turkey’s earthquake-hit provinces, in addition to the roughly 3 million people estimated to have left their homes in the aftermath. Thousands of pregnant women are among those living in tents or containers in the cold and without adequate hygiene facilities. Syrian refugees in Turkey’s earthquake zone are now twice displaced, facing harsher realities around safety and resettlement amid rising anti-immigrant sentiments. The Erdogan government claims it has already signed contracts to build the first of 200,000 housing units in the affected areas starting as early as March, translating to months on end in shelters for hundreds of thousands of people. 

Extended Outlook

What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…

Feb. 24-March 3 

Feb. 24

  • One-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Feb. 25 

  • Nigerian election
  • 2023 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Finance and Central Bank Deputies’ Meeting

Feb. 26

  • Communist Party of China Central Committee meets

Feb. 27

  • Human Rights Council meeting
  • Elections in Nagaland and Meghalaya, India
  • Japan Upper House to hold confirmation hearings on new BoJ leaders
  • SpaceX Crew-6 launches to International Space Station
  • Serbia and Kosovo meet in Brussels

Feb. 28

  • Chicago municipal election
  • U.S. Supreme Court begins hearing oral arguments in student loan forgiveness case
  • California’s state of emergency for coronavirus ends
  • NFL Scouting Combine begins in Indianapolis
  • Finland parliament votes on NATO ratification

March 1

  • G20 foreign ministers meeting in New Delhi
  • EU defense ministers meet in Stockholm
  • Conservative Political Action Conference begins in Washington, D.C.

March 4-10 

March 5

  • Estonian Parliament election

March 6

  • Germany’s association of local utilities VKU hosts a conference in Berlin

March 7

  • Congress of the Federated States of Micronesia Election
  • France pensions reform strike
  • EU informal meeting of defense ministers 

March 8

  • Portuguese doctors’ strike
  • International Women’s Day

March 9 

  •  EU informal meeting of trade ministers
  •  EU Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting

March 10

  • British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will visit France for British-French summit

March 11-17 

March 11

  • India governorship and state assembly elections

March 13

  • Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change meets in Switzerland
  • Eurogroup meeting

March 14

  • EU Economic and Financial Affairs Council meeting

March 15

  • British Finance Minister Jeremy Hunt presents the UK government’s budget

March 16

  • New Czech President Petr Pavel will visit Poland

March 17 

  • OSCE foreign ministers will meet in Vienna, Austria
  • St. Patrick’s Day

March 18-24 

March 19 

  • Kazakh House of Representatives election
  • Montenegro referendum election

March 20

  • EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting

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