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Forecast podcast: Ukraine signals strategy shift with drone strikes deep inside Russia

In snow and ice there is a burning oil facility with a few firefighters trying to extinguish the flames

Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Alex Moore discuss Ukraine’s recent drone strikes deep inside Russia, plus more on rising energy prices in Argentina, presidential elections in Finland, Iran’s foreign minister visiting Pakistan and five big tech CEOs testifying in the U.S. Senate.

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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 Alex Moore, Irene Villora, David Wyllie, Jeff Landset and Sophie Perryer. Produced and edited by Jimmy Lovaas. Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

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 January 25th.

And in this week’s forecast we’ll take a look at Ukrainian strikes deep inside Russia, rising energy prices in Argentina, presidential elections in Finland, Iran’s foreign minister visiting Pakistan and five big tech CEOs testifying in the US Senate. 

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

Ukrainian strikes on Russia’s Leningrad region

Information compiled by Alex Moore

JIMMY: Up first, we’ll take a look at some recent Ukrainian strikes inside Russia. For more on that I’ve got the lead for our Europe desk, Alex Moore.

JIMMY: Hi, Alex. 

ALEX: Hello, Jimmy. 

JIMMY: Well, Alex, we saw a pretty notable Ukrainian strike this past weekend inside Russia. What can you tell us about that?

ALEX: Yeah, there were two separate strikes that were notable over the past week, both of which occurred in Russia’s Leningrad region, which is where St. Petersburg, the second largest city in the country, is. This was notable because this was the first time since the outbreak of the war that we’ve seen the Leningrad region targeted by Ukrainian projectiles. We’ve seen Moscow targeted; we’ve seen Saratov targeted. So we’ve seen some longer range strikes, but this was the first time that Leningrad was — the war was brought to Leningrad, so to speak. So the first of the two: there were three drones that targeted the area around St. Petersburg, most notably an oil terminal which is on the Gulf of Finland in St. Petersburg. These three drones appeared to have been successfully downed. But, a couple of days later, a far more notable and impactful strike took place, west of St. Petersburg in Leningrad Oblast, in a place called Ust-Luga, which hosts a massive Baltic Sea oil terminal where there are significant gas pipelines run through. The Nord Stream 2 ran through there. And this is pretty close to the Estonian border, but it is a large-scale oil terminal from Novatek, which is a Russian energy giant. So this strike did cause a large blaze at the site and knocked the oil terminal offline, which it still is today, as of recording, which is Wednesday. Novatek resumed fuel loading, but the terminal is going to be offline for at least a couple of more weeks. So for a couple of reasons, very notable for us to see Ust-Luga targeted and Leningrad targeted as well.

JIMMY: And what’s the latest? How are things looking right now?

ALEX: The latest is the – I guess what I just said regarding the terminal remaining offline, but it does kind of situate more broadly within a trend we’ve seen of Ukraine targeting more strategic oil nodes in Russia to cause economic harm. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve seen Ukraine target oil depots fairly consistently near its borders with Russia over the course of the war to disrupt Russian efforts to resupply its forces in Ukraine with oil and gas logistics. So we’ve seen this take place in places like Krasnodar and Bryansk for the war effort, but this could signal a broader strategy shift toward Ukraine targeting more strategic large-scale oil nodes for Russia’s gas exports, which have, I don’t want to say been unimpacted by sanctions in the wake of 2022 invasion, because they of course have, but Russia has still seen $400 billion of revenue brought in from hydrocarbon exports since then. They’ve successfully evaded sanctions in many ways, so it continues to be a massive economic boon for the Kremlin. So it’s possible that we could see Ukraine in the early throes of, sort of, a prolonged campaign to target these assets deeper within Russia that are more strategic macroeconomic targets. This coincides with Ukraine domestically producing more of these suicides strike drones that they are producing domestically. These are not foreign-supplied weapons. These are not the Storm Shadow missiles. These are drones made in Ukraine, they’re now producing at higher scale, which enables them to carry out these attacks more frequently. And the St. Petersburg strike was, I believe, the Ukrainians claimed that the projectile flew 1,250 kilometers, which would be the longest we’ve seen them strike within Russia.

JIMMY: How have the Russians reacted to the strike? And, you know, speaking of reactions, what have they been like outside of Russia?

ALEX: I’ll start with Russia. In Leningrad, which again, we kind of lead with this, but Leningrad has been totally unimpacted by the war effort, at least from the standpoint of projectiles targeting the area, obviously. Russia as a whole society has been impacted by the war. But this is the first time that’s taken place in the last two years. So they’ve implemented an emergency regime in the Leningrad region and they’ve repositioned more air defense assets – S-300s, S-400s – along flight paths that it would take for Ukrainian drones to fly to the Leningrad region. So they are repositioning air assets, because again, I don’t want to say they could ignore Leningrad before this, we’ve seen Ukraine hit Peskov, which is southwest of Leningrad, but this has provided them with more of an onus to defend that area a bit harder. Outside of Russia, this sort of, I suppose, messes with global oil markets. We have seen the Ust-Luga terminal being taken offline to further spook energy markets in tandem with what we’re seeing happen in the Red Sea, which I believe we talked about in the podcast last week. Shameless plug there for last week’s podcast. But in tandem with what’s happening in the Red Sea with oil shipments there, this has further compounded the global energy markets rising a bit.

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

ALEX: Within the standpoint of this strike campaign, again, I think it’s definitely worth monitoring to see if Ukraine continues the trend of targeting more strategic oil nodes as opposed to more tactical ones that directly and tangibly impact Russian logistics for this war effort, because we have seen that be a bit more of a feature of Ukraine’s efforts to strike within Russia, while this is more targeting Russian exports, and its economic lifeline, of which everybody knows, obviously, oil and gas exports make up a significant chunk of the Kremlin’s budget. So this could potentially mark a strategy shift – that we see it attempted more often. And, again, there’s a distinction that you have to draw between oil depots closer to the front that are re supplying, you know, forces that are actually fighting in Ukraine. Those are more logistical tactical strikes, whereas this would be a more strategic campaign aimed at choking off funds for the Kremlin. So yeah.

JIMMY: Well, Alex, unfortunately, we have to pause there for today, but I know you’ll be watching the war closely and will keep us up to date as needed. Always appreciate it.

ALEX: Excellent. Thank you, Jimmy. 

JIMMY: Take care.

Electricity prices increase in Argentina

Information compiled by Irene Villora

JIMMY: Argentinian officials will meet with electricity company bosses on Friday. They plan to set energy prices for the coming year.

Two energy providers called Edenor and Edesur have asked the government to raise bills to generate more than one billion Argentina pesos this year.

This amount is required to operate the public electricity service and takes into account future investment into the network, inflation and the cost of servicing debts.

Increases in individuals’ payments will vary as people are means-tested based on income for access to government subsidies, but overall prices are expected to rise by about 140 percent.

Another meeting will take place on Monday to factor in the cost of transporting the electricity.

Finland presidential elections

Information compiled by David Wyllie

JIMMY: Presidential elections will take place in Finland on Sunday. They’ll be the country’s first since joining NATO last year.

Incumbent President Sauli Niinistö can’t run again due to term limits, so voters face a choice between nine candidates.

The two frontrunners are Alexander Stubb from the ruling right-wing National Coalition Party and Pekka Haavisto, a Green party politician and former foreign minister.

Early voting is already underway, and polls show no candidate is likely to win a majority in the first round. This means a second round of voting will take place next month.

Whoever wins will represent Finland at NATO meetings, as well as taking charge of foreign policy in alignment with the government.

Iran’s foreign minister to visit Pakistan

Information compiled by Jeff Landset

JIMMY: Iran’s foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian will travel to Pakistan on Monday. It’s part of an effort to ease tensions after the two countries recently exchanged missile strikes.

It all started in early January when the Islamic State killed at least 100 people in an attack in Iran’s Kerman region.

Just over a week ago, Iran launched missile strikes against the Sunni militant group Jaish al-Adl in Pakistan’s Balochistan region. Iran claimed to be targeting terrorist operatives, but Pakistan said the strikes killed two children.

After that strike, Pakistan recalled its ambassador to Tehran and told the Iranian ambassador to remain out of the country.

Two days later, Pakistan launched its own strikes apparently targeting terrorists outside the Iranian city of Saravan, which Iran says killed nine people, including four children.

The situation now appears to have calmed, but tensions are still running very high in the region over Israel’s war in Gaza.

Iran says it is not trying to enter the conflict but it will back allied groups to show solidarity with the Palestinians

Pakistan is also days away from an election and likely doesn’t want a conflict outside its borders to detract from the domestic matters at hand.

TikTok, Meta, X CEOs to testify at US Senate hearing

Information compiled by Sophie Perryer

JIMMY: The chief executives of five major tech companies will appear before the U.S. Senate judiciary committee on Wednesday. They’ll be questioned on their child protection policies. 

The CEOS of Meta and TikTok agreed to appear voluntarily but the committee had to subpoena the chief executives of X, Discord and Snap.

Since the judiciary committee first held hearings on online child safety back in February, several pieces of legislation, including a proposal to ban TikTok entirely, were introduced to Congress.

However, the plans have since stalled, reportedly after aggressive lobbying by TikTok and concerns over alienating younger voters in an election year. 

It’s not just the U.S. that is scrutinizing social media giants for measures against child sexual abuse, however.  Back in December, the EU ordered Meta, TikTok and X to provide more information on their policies to protect minors or risk a full investigation and a hefty fine. 


JIMMY: 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 Irene Villora, David Wyllie, Jeff Landset and Sophie Perryer. Our interview featured editor Alex Moore and our podcast is produced and edited by me – Jimmy Lovaas, with additional writing by Sophie Perryer. 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 © 2023 Factal. All rights reserved.

Music: ‘Factal Theme’ courtesy of Andrew Gospe

Top photo: Firefighters work to extinguish a fire at the Novatek terminal in the port of Ust-Luga, Russia, on Jan. 2 following Ukrainian strike. (Photo: Leningrad Region’s Governor Alexander Drozdenko / Telegram)

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