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Forecast: El Salvador’s year-long gang crackdown, Russian defense ministry takes over Bakhmut, and new day of French pension protests

Wagner Group mercenaries stand with flags of Russia and the Wagner group as they claim control of Bakhmut, Ukraine

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 year-long crackdown targeting gangs has led to a sharp decline in murders in El Salvador, historically one of the most violent countries in the world, but human rights monitors are questioning the cost. In this week’s Factal Forecast podcast, Senior Editor Jimmy Lovaas and Editor Jeff Landset discuss the scores of detainees dying in El Salvadorian custody and how the situation may affect next year’s presidential election.

Listen now or download on your favorite platform. 

Week of June 2-9
A Look Ahead

June 2 – Russian defense ministry completes Bakhmut takeover 

Russian state forces will complete the process of taking over the occupation of Bakhmut, Ukraine, from Wagner mercenaries by Friday.

What’s happened so far 
Following a grinding and attritional campaign that lasted more than nine months, Russian forces secured their first big victory over Ukraine since last summer with the capture of Bakhmut in May. The victory can be described as pyrrhic, with the massive casualties and sustained heavy fighting drawing comparisons to attritional trench warfare of World War I. Wagner’s mercenary forces handled the majority of offensive combat, losing 20,000 fighters in the process, according to group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin.

The impact 
Wagner is now in the process of handing over control of the Ukrainian city to Russia’s defense ministry and National Guard units. What comes next for the group is unclear after it took an outsized role in Russia’s fizzled winter offensive and its founder ramped up pressure on the defense ministry to turn its “special operation” in Ukraine into total war. As for Bakhmut, regular Russian elements will now fully take over flank support in areas to the northwest and southwest of Bakhmut where fighting continues as Ukraine attempts to utilize high ground to partially encircle occupiers within the city. With Bakhmut occupied, no major Russian offensives are currently underway across the vast line of contact in occupied Ukraine, leaving the ball in Kyiv’s court to choose where to launch anticipated counteroffensive operations.

June 4 – Guinea-Bissau legislative elections 

The West African country of Guinea-Bissau will hold elections Sunday after President Umaro Sissoco Embaló dissolved parliament last year.

What’s happened so far
Embaló called for legislative elections for December last year after dissolving parliament, accusing deputies of “corruption, harmful administration and embezzlement.” The president also survived a failed coup and an assassination attempt that left nearly a dozen people dead in February 2022. The vote was eventually delayed to this June after the suspension of 28 political parties over alleged failure to present legal credentials.

The impact 
Around 900,000 people are registered to vote, with 20 parties and two coalitions running to select 102 members of the People’s National Assembly. Embaló has pushed for constituional reforms that will further empower the presidency but need a two-third majority approval from parliament. He has also warned that he will not name candidate Domingos Simões Pereira prime minister if his coalition, the Inclusive Alliance Platform, wins. Pereira has accused authorities of trying to provoke violence after attempts to block his electoral caravan at the main entrance to the capital Bissau and within the city.  

June 4 – 34th anniversary of China’s Tiananmen Square crackdown

Public gatherings recognizing the Tiananmen Square crackdown seem unlikely to occur Sunday for a second consecutive year in Hong Kong, once the only territory controlled by China to hold such events.

What’s happened so far 
Hong Kong pro-democracy activists used to hold a well-established annual vigil mourning the lives lost in the Chinese government’s deadly crackdown on protesters at Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989. Hong Kong authorities began banning the gathering four years ago. Thousands of people defied the bans in June 2020, but the passage of a sweeping national security law quickly stifled dissent in the former British colony, leading to hundreds of arrests and ongoing trials. Three former organizers of the well-known June 4 vigil were recently jailed for several months for not complying with police requests for information under the national security law, after the group was accused of being a foreign agent.

The impact 
Hong Kong leader John Lee did not give a clear answer when asked whether residents would legally be allowed to publicly mark the anniversary. Instead, he said police would take action if “public order activities” break laws. Meanwhile, Taiwanese human rights groups are planning to gather in Taipei to remember the victims of Tiananmen Square. 

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June 4 – OPEC ministerial meeting 

OPEC+ leaders are set to meet Sunday in Vienna amid worries about the US debt ceiling deadline and concerns about whether the group will increase oil outputs. 

What’s happened so far 
During the group’s last meeting on April 3, the committee reviewed crude production data between January and February, which included voluntary production reductions by nine countries to stabilize the market that amounted to 1.66 barrels per day.  The move followed a drop in prices after a previous OPEC+ decision to cut production in 2022 amid poor global economic projections in a post-pandemic environment worsened by the war in Ukraine. 

The impact 
It is unclear whether the upcoming in-person meeting will yield drastic policy changes as OPEC+ members put out conflicting messages. While Iraq claims production cuts are unlikely and Russia maintains no new steps will be announced, Saudi Arabia’s energy minister has issued warnings to short sellers who benefit from a drop in prices through speculation, which could indicate further reductions in production are to come. Oil prices have remained stable in the past week amid a US tightening of crude and fuel supplies.

June 6 – New day of French pension protests  

French unions have called for a nationwide day of strikes and protests Tuesday to keep up political pressure on President Emmanuel Macron following the passage of controversial pension reform legislation.

What’s happened so far 
Macron signed into law legislation that raised France’s retirement age by two years in April following an extended period of strikes and protests. Following the passage of the bill, public anger remains strong and protests continue to result in violent clashes with police and hundreds of arrests. An independent report into the handling of public order criticized the police for “preventive arrests” at previous protests and condemned the tactic of arbitrary detentions as an act of repression.

The impact 
Previous nationwide days of action have seen significant disruption in French cities, with the largest gatherings occurring in Paris. Union organizers say strike action on the day will provide an opportunity for workers to have their voices heard ahead of a June 8 debate on a bill authored by an opposition party that would cancel the retirement age increase.

June 7 – UK prime minister visits White House  

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will visit the White House on Wednesday for his first official visit to Washington, DC.

What’s happened so far 
Sunak and US President Joe Biden met before on multiple occasions, including in Northern Ireland on the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement, where the two leaders discussed economic investment in Northern Ireland and a range of other foreign policy issues. This followed Biden receiving criticism from Northern Ireland’s pro-UK Unionist Party after he made contentious remarks ahead of his visit.

The impact 
The White House has said developments in Northern Ireland will again be discussed in Washington, as well as “shared economic and national security challenges.” A transatlantic trade deal appears to be off the table, however, after the Biden administration showed reluctance to engage on the pact despite post-Brexit UK and Europe striking a deal over Northern Ireland trade protocols.

What Else Matters

Inside a bus with dozens of shaved-headed prisoners and just one guard in the aisle
An agent guards prisoners as they are transported to their cells after 2,000 gang members were transferred to the Terrorism Confinement Center in Tecoluca, El Salvador. (Photo: Secretaria de Prensa de la Presidencia / Handout)

El Salvador gang crackdown 

More than 150 people jailed in El Salvador have died since the country enacted emergency powers to fight gangs last year, according to a human rights group’s new report. They died from being tortured, starved or sustaining other systematic injuries, according to the group. None of the victims had been officially charged with a crime, the report said. In March 2022, following a weekend in which 87 people were killed, the country’s legislature approved the suspension of many civil liberties, including the right to an attorney for people who have been arrested, at the request of President Nayib Bukele. Since then, police have detained more than 65,000 alleged gang members. Many Salvadorans, tired of rampant gang violence and one of the highest homicide rates in the Western hemisphere, have applauded the crackdown as government numbers showed the homicide rate was cut in half last year.

Watch for: The last several months of the gang crackdown have increased overpopulation in El Salvador’s prisons significantly, leading to the opening of a maximum security penitentiary that can hold up to 40,000 people. President Bukele released a video showing thousands of prisoners with shaved heads and white gym shorts entering the facility. Despite the international outrage, things are not expected to change quickly. Bukele enjoys an approval rating near 90 percent and many other countries in the region are taking inspiration from his actions.

Nova Scotia wildfires

Dry, warm weather has fueled wildfires in Canada’s Nova Scotia, destroying more of the eastern province’s forests over the past week than in the past decade. The flames have prompted the evacuation of thousands of residents from the suburbs of Halifax and in the south, where a much bigger blaze destroyed more than 25,000 acres near the town of Barrington.

Watch for: The relatively rare wildfires in Nova Scotia are sending air pollution across the northeastern United States more than a month before the start of summer, prompting climate researchers to sound another alarm over the devastation caused by global warming. Last year, the province issued a report detailing the expected long-term impacts of climate change, in which it projects wildfires becoming the biggest threat in the 2050s, preceded by flooding in the 2030s. Around Halifax, where most of the impact is being felt due to higher population density, authorities have shut down more than a dozen schools and are keeping shelters open for evacuees as firefighters continue to battle the out-of-control blaze.

Kosovo-Serbia new tensions 

Ethnic Serb politicians in Serb-majority northern Kosovo boycotted the extraordinary local elections held in April 2023, which saw a less than 3.5 percent turnout. When the newly elected ethnic Albanian mayors moved into their new offices last Friday, ethnic Serb protesters attempted to prevent them from entering the premises and Serbia raised the country’s “combat readiness” alert. This escalated with an exchange of tear gas on Monday, as a result of which at least 41 NATO-led Kosovo peacekeeping troops stationed in the north were injured in Zvecan.

Watch for: NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced the alliance would send an additional 700 soldiers to Kosovo following unrest in the ethnic-Serb north. Stoltenberg said NATO was ready to deploy additional battalions if necessary. Any Serbian military intervention in the area, although unlikely, would therefore mean a direct clash with NATO peacekeepers. International efforts continue to push for a political resolution within days despite persisting road blockades and demonstrations outside municipal buildings in north Kosovo.

Extended Outlook

What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…

June 2-9 

June 2

  • “Shangri-La Dialogue” Asia security summit in Singapore
  • Russian MoD completes Bakhmut takeover following Wagner withdrawal

June 4

  • OPEC+ meeting
  • India monsoon rains expected to hit Kerala
  • 34th anniversary of Tiananmen Square crackdown
  • Guinea-Bissau legislative elections

June 5

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

June 6

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

June 7

  • UK prime minister visits White House

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

  • US 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

June 24-30 

June 24 

  • Sierra Leone elections

June 25 

  • U.S.-Israel Negev Forum in Morocco
  • Guatemala elections
  • Greece elections

June 26

  • Toronto mayoral election
  • Hajj
  • Argentina’s President Alberto Fernandez visits Brazil

June 29

  • Devshayani Ekadashi Hindu holiday

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