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Forecast: Ukraine-aligned attack in Russia’s Belgorod, Turkey heads to presidential runoff, and U.S. debt ceiling deadline looms

President Joe Biden in a White House room talking to Congressional leadership who sit facing him

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.

Anti-Putin militias aligned with Ukraine launched a rare cross-border attack into Belgorod, Russia, on May 22. In this week’s Factal Forecast podcast, Senior Editor Jimmy Lovaas and Editor Alex Moore discuss reactions to the brief incursion and how it may play into an anticipated counter-offensive by Ukraine.

Listen now or download on your favorite platform.

Week of May 26-June 2
A Look Ahead

May 28 – Turkey presidential election runoff  

Millions of people will vote across Turkey on Sunday in the second round of the country’s presidential election as incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu in a run-off.

What’s happened so far 
The first round of the presidential election, held on May 14, saw a better-than-expected finish for Erdogan taking 49.52 percent of votes against Kilicdaroglu’s 44.88 percent. With neither candidate gaining a majority of the vote, the election triggered a runoff and a renewed campaign. Erdogan secured a crucial endorsement from third-place candidate and ultranationalist Sinan Ogan, who won just over 5 percent of the vote, and looks set to win, a sharp reversal of fortunes after predictions of his defeat only two weeks earlier. Kilicdaroglu has appealed to the youth vote and the 8 million Turks who didn’t vote in the first round.

The impact 
If Erdogan wins, he will begin the five-year term as president, cementing a grasp on power that has barely wavered since his Justice and Development Party (AKP) took control in 2002. Erdogan’s party held onto the most in the parliamentary elections, held on the same day as the presidential election’s first round. With the People’s Alliance coalition holding on to a majority, Erdogan would have control of the both the executive branch and the legislature.

May 28 – New Greek parliament to be sworn in before being dissolved

Greece’s parliament will be sworn in Sunday and dissolved the following day after last Sunday’s vote failed to elect a new government.

What’s happened so far 
Last Sunday, Greek incumbent Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ New Democracy party secured almost 41 percent of the vote in the parliamentary elections, just four seats short of a majority. Following the result, Mitsotakis announced he would call for fresh elections on June 25 in order to avoid a coalition.

The impact 
Since there was no agreement on a coalition following Sunday’s vote, protocol demands the parliament to be sworn in and then dissolved. Under a new electoral system coming into effect next month, the winning party is granted 50 bonus seats in the second round, which means Mitsotakis will likely be allowed to form a single-party government.

May 29 – Alberta provincial elections

Residents of Alberta in western Canada will elect a new provincial legislature and premier Monday, despite destructive wildfires in the rural north.

What’s happened so far 
Unlike the east, provincial politics in western Canada is largely ignored by the Liberal Party and is instead contested between Conservative-affiliated parties and the social democrats of the New Democratic Party (NDP). Alberta last held an election in 2019, which saw Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party (UCP) dethrone incumbent Rachel Notley’s NDP. Notley’s 2015 ascension ended 44 years of right-wing government in Alberta and caused two conservative parties to form today’s UCP. Kenney governed from 2019 to 2022, propping up the pipelines and refineries that underpin Alberta’s oil industry. Kenney resigned in 2022 after facing a no-confidence vote for implementing a coronavirus vaccine passport and was replaced by radio host Danielle Smith. 

The impact 
Polling currently shows a slight lead for Smith over Notley, with Canadian polling aggregator 338Canada giving the UCP a 75 percent chance of victory. Recent wildfires, which forced more than 17,000 Albertans to evacuate their homes, have so far not majorly shifted the race. Smith has ruled to the right of her predecessor, comparing vaccinated Canadians to Nazis and passing the Alberta Sovereignty Act, which empowers the province to overrule federal laws. Nevertheless, high oil prices have caused the province’s economy to grow faster than the national average, preserving what previous conservatives have coined “the Alberta Advantage.”

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May 29 – Korea-Pacific Islands summit

On Monday, South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol will host his first Korea-Pacific Islands summit in Seoul. 

What’s happened so far 
All 18 members of the Pacific Islands Forum have been invited to Seoul for the summit, where they are set to discuss strategic partnerships between the country and the region, along with issues such as climate change and disaster response.

The impact 
The forum, and the individual islands within it, are beginning to have a larger impact and importance in the region. The United States is set to plan a similar summit in 2023, the second in two years, after having to cancel a visit to Papua New Guinea. Other countries in the region, such as Korea, are pushing for larger cooperation with islands in an effort to parallel China’s growing influence there as well. Korea will also be using this summit in its bid to host the World Expo 2030, with voting set to take place in November.

May 31 – Latvian parliament elects president  

Latvia’s 100-seat parliament will elect a new president Wednesday to fill the largely ceremonial position.

What’s happened so far 
Latvia’s current President Egils Levitz announced earlier in May that he would not seek reelection for another four-year term, citing disappointment that the country’s ruling coalition could not agree on a joint candidate. A main favorite to succeed Levitz is Latvia’s popular, long-serving Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics, the favored candidate of the New Unity ruling alliance. 

The impact 
While largely a ceremonial figure tasked with uniting the country, Latvia’s president does retain some functions, such as representing Riga abroad and possessing the power of veto. Given Rinkevics’ prominent role as foreign minister, particularly in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with Latvia serving as a strong backer of Kyiv, he could exercise outsized presidential sway with the post’s foreign policy power if elected.

May 31 – NATO foreign ministers meet in Norway 

Norway will host an informal meeting of NATO’s foreign affairs ministers Wednesday to continue discussions on Russia’s war in Ukraine.

What’s happened so far 
The first such NATO informal meeting was hosted by Germany in Berlin last May, where the foreign ministers discussed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that had begun just over two months prior. With Swedish and Finland foreign ministers invited as guests, officials also discussed the application of the two countries into NATO, with only Finland managing to succeed in joining the alliance as its 31st member this past April.

The impact 
In this meeting, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the talks will focus on the “fundamentally changed security situation” in Ukraine. This comes weeks after Russia’s Wagner mercenaries claimed full control of the city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine. Foreign ministers are expected to use these informal talks to also prepare for the upcoming NATO heads of state meeting that will be held in Vilnius, Lithuania, starting on July 11.

May 31 – IMF decides on Seychelles loan request 

The International Monetary Fund board will decide on a $100 million loan request by Seychelles on Wednesday

What’s happened so far 
The country reached a staff-level agreement with the IMF last month and now awaits board approval of funds of more than $100 million under the Extended Fund Facility arrangement and a new Resilience and Sustainability Facility program. According to the IMF, the funds are expected to support the country’s efforts to “maintain macroeconomic stability, advance structural reforms, including climate adaptation and mitigation, and insure against downside risks.” 

The impact 
Seychelles relies heavily on its tourism industry, a significant contributor to its economy, which suffered greatly during border closures and lockdowns brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. However, the country saw a boost of 81 percent in tourism in 2022 from the year prior, resulting in economic growth sufficient enough to pave the way for the IMF loan. 

June 1 – U.S. debt ceiling deadline  

In a letter sent to congressional leaders on Monday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said it is “highly likely” the treasury will be unable to meet the government’s financial obligations by early June, and potentially as soon as Thursday, if a deal is not reached to raise the debt ceiling.

What’s happened so far 
The tenor of talks between the White House and Republicans has swung back and forth between optimistic and pessimistic, with the two sides reportedly far apart on future federal spending levels. The Treasury has also reportedly asked federal agencies if upcoming payments can be made at a later date, in an effort to stave off the “X-date” for as long as possible. 

The impact 
A default would have devastating effects on the U.S. economy, with financial markets taking a significant hit and a recession almost certain to follow. Everything from veterans benefits to Social Security payments could be held up by the debt standoff, as well as wages for more than 4 million federal workers. 

What Else Matters

A man in military uniform-ish stands holding a border crossing sign written in Russian
A photo released by the so-called Russian Volunteer Corps shows a member of the group posing with a sign at the Graivoron border crossing in Kozinka in Russia’s Belgorod region. (Photo:Russian Volunteer Corps / Handout)

Ukraine-aligned attack in Belgorod, Russia 

Multiple Ukraine-aligned militias consisting of anti-Kremlin Russian militants penetrated the Russian border into Belgorod Oblast this week in the most significant ground breach of Moscow’s border since the outbreak of last year’s war. The attack began early Monday when militants with the far-right Russian Volunteer Corps and the Freedom of Russia Legion attacked border checkpoints and advanced into multiple settlements within Belgorod where firefights ensued for the next day. Moscow claimed to have repulsed the attack a day later, saying it killed 70 militants, while the militia groups acknowledged they retreated back across the border but only admitted to two deaths on its side.

Watch for: The extent to which Kyiv cooperates with the militias in question remains unclear, though Ukraine did acknowledge “exchanging information” with the militants but not “directly participating” in the raid. If the raid was at all coordinated by Kyiv, they could be attempting to divert Russian forces from defending the lines of contact along occupied territory in Ukraine to defending northeastern border regions ahead of an anticipated counteroffensive. The United States reacted relatively harshly to the attack, reiterating that it did not want to see U.S.-supplied weapons used for attacks inside of Russia. It is safe to assume Washington does not take kindly to seeing such weapons used by de-facto non-state elements with onerous ideology, which raises the specter of additional admonishing through closed channels.

South Africa cholera outbreak 

At least 15 people have died and dozens of others are being treated in hospitals due to a cholera outbreak in Hammanskraal, a suburb of the South African capital Pretoria. The country reported its first case back in February in a patient who had traveled from neighboring Malawi, which is experiencing the deadliest outbreak in its history. More recent cases have no travel history, indicating the disease is now spreading in South African communities.

Watch for: South African federal authorities and local residents in Hammanskraal attribute the concentration of cases in the area to poor water sanitation. In a statement Sunday, municipal officials urged residents not to drink tap water and said testing was underway to determine the source of the outbreak. The city regularly provides water to residents via tankers, and testing of that water is also underway after local advocacy groups raised concerns the contents of the tankers was not appropriately screened for cholera pathogens and therefore also not safe to drink. In the longer term, the dual threat of a domestic cholera outbreak combined with continued import of the disease from neighboring countries could rapidly overwhelm South African healthcare facilities.

Extended Outlook

What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…

May 26-June 2

May 27

  • Mauritanian National Assembly election

May 28

  • Indianapolis 500
  • Turkey presidential election runoff
  • New Greek parliament to be sworn in and then dissolved

May 29

  • Alberta provincial general election
  • Korea-Pacific Islands Summit

May 30

  • Miami Beach International Fashion Week begins

May 31

  • Norway hosts meeting of NATO foreign ministers
  • Latvia’s parliament elects president
  • IMF decides on Seychelles loan request

June 1

  • U.S. debt ceiling deadline
  • European Political Community meets in Moldova
  • NBA Finals begin
  • Jordanian Crown Prince Hussein wedding
  • IMF board to decide on Comoros Islands loan request
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will visit South Africa
  • German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock hosts Baltic Sea Council meeting of foreign ministers
  • South Africa hosts meeting of the foreign ministers of BRICS nations

June 2

  • Shangri-La Dialogue Asia security summit in Singapore

June 3-9

June 4

  • OPEC+ meeting
  • India monsoon rains expected to hit Kerala

June 5

  • Commission measures preventing Ukrainian grain exports to Poland, Hungary, Slovakia Romania and Bulgaria set to expire
  • Denmark Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen visits the White House
  • International Labour Conference

June 6

  • European Parliament election
  • French unions plan fresh protests against pension law
  •  Kuwaiti National Assembly election

June 8

  • German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visits Italy

June 10-16 

June 10

  • 2023 UEFA Champions League final in Istanbul

June 11

  • Montenegro parliamentary elections

June 15

  • U.S. Open for golf begins

June 16

  • Special Olympics World Summer Games begin

June 17-23 

June 18 

  • Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin visits Portugal

June 20

  • Dutch King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima visit Belgium
  • German Chancellor Scholz invites Chinese Premier Li Qiang for talks
  • Jagannath Rath Yatra Hindu Festival

June 22

  • U.S. President Joe Biden hosts Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for state visit

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