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Forecast: Ukrainian strikes deep inside Russia, Iran’s foreign minister visits Pakistan, and Finland holds presidential election

Aboriginal groups held protest marches on 2023's Australia Day, pictured above in Melbourne. Demonstrations are expected again on this year's holiday. (Photo: Matt Hrkac / Flickr)

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.

Week of Jan. 26-Feb. 2

Jan. 26 – Australia Day  

On Friday, Australia marks the landing of British colonists at Sydney Cove with a national holiday that has garnered increasing controversy over the years. 

What’s happened so far 
While Jan. 26 is a major national public holiday and civic event in Australia, many Aboriginal Australians have long considered it a day of mourning and the symbolic beginning of the theft and destruction of Aboriginal lands and peoples, calling it “Invasion Day” or “Survival Day.”  Opponents of the commemoration have called for a change of date or even the holiday’s abolishment, with increasing support from younger Australians and workplaces. 
The impact 
This year’s Australia Day is set to be particularly tense after the country’s legislature voted against the creation of an Indigenous advisory body to represent the disadvantaged ethnic minority last fall. Protests and celebratory events are expected Friday in major cities across Australia, despite forecasts of extreme weather, including heat waves and storms, over the long weekend. 

Jan. 26 – Electricity prices increase in Argentina  

Argentine government officials will meet with the representatives of electricity companies on Friday to calculate new rates.

What’s happened so far 
Electricity providers Edenor and Edesur have requested the government raise monthly fares in 2024 in order to receive more than 1 billion Argentine pesos (USD $1.2 million) to operate the public service. Argentine operators calculate the annual fare raises based on the estimated income that companies will need in order to provide electricity services and prevent power outages. Aside from operation and investment costs, inflation adjustments and the cost of standing debt from the state to the electricity companies are factored in to calculate the raises.
The impact 
The rise of fares will have varying impact on Argentinians as monthly payments are calculated based on income and eligibility for public subsidies. A second meeting will take place Monday to factor in the cost of electricity transportation with representatives of eight operators. According to preliminary estimates from energy regulators, energy prices could rise approximately 140 percent.

Jan. 28 – Finland presidential elections  

Finland will vote Sunday in the country’s first presidential election since joining NATO.

What’s happened so far 
Incumbent President Sauli Niinistö is ineligible to run again due to term limits, setting up an open race to be the country’s 13th president. Former Prime Minister Alexander Stubb, a center-right candidate, has emerged as one of the frontrunners in recent polling with the Green candidate and former Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto narrowly behind him. The two candidates represent the country’s political right and left-wings but are joined by a crowded field, and it’s highly unlikely either will win a majority in this first round of voting. 
The impact 
Early voting has already started, with polls showing Stubb leading a close race. Polling also indicates that no candidate comes close to winning a majority in this round, in which case, a second round will be held in February between the two frontrunners. Whoever wins will represent Finland at NATO meetings, now that the country is a member of the alliance, and will also lead foreign policy with the cooperation of the government.

Jan. 29 – Iran’s foreign minister to visit Pakistan  

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian will visit Pakistan’s Islamabad on Monday in an effort to ease tensions after strikes between the neighboring countries.

What’s happened so far 
Earlier this month, more than 100 people were killed in an ISIS attack in southeastern Iran. On Jan. 16, Iran launched strikes in Pakistan’s Balochistan province targeting the Sunni militant group Jaish al-Adl. Pakistan quickly condemned the attack, saying the strikes killed two children, and recalled its ambassador from Tehran while banning Iran’s ambassador. Days later, Pakistan launched its own attack near the Iranian city of Saravan, citing knowledge of impending terrorist activities. Iran claimed the attack killed nine people, including four children. 
The impact 
October’s Hamas attacks on Israel inflamed several crises in the Middle East. Iran said it is not trying to enter the conflict, but it will back groups in order to show solidarity with the Palestinians. In the wake of the Israel-Hamas war, Iran has also launched strikes in Iraq and Syria, targeting Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency and ISIS. Iran and Pakistan have seemed to calm things down, but things could change quickly, especially with Iranians hurting after the attack in Kerman and Pakistan just days away from an election.

Jan. 31 – TikTok, Meta, X CEOs to testify at U.S. Senate hearing  

The chief executives of five major tech companies must appear before the U.S. Senate judiciary committee Wednesday to face questions on how their platforms protect children from online sexual exploitation. 

What’s happened so far 
Mark Zuckerberg and Shou Zi Chew, the CEOs of Meta and TikTok respectively, agreed to appear voluntarily before the committee, but the remaining three executives were issued with subpoenas after initially refusing to appear. Since the judiciary committee first held hearings on online child safety back in February 2023, several pieces of legislation, including a federal plan to heavily restrict TikTok in the United States, were introduced to Congress. But progress toward a ban stalled in the latter part of the year, reportedly due to aggressive lobbying by the Chinese social network and concerns over alienating younger voters in an election year.
The impact 
It’s not just the United States that is scrutinizing social media giants for their measures against child sexual abuse, which escalated in multiple jurisdictions in 2023, according to internet watchdogs. Back in December, the European Union ordered Meta, TikTok and X to provide more information on measures to prevent the dissemination of violent content and prevent the abuse of minors. If they do not comply with the request, they face a full investigation and a potential fine of up to 10 percent of worldwide annual turnover.

Feb. 1 – EU budget summit  

Member states of the European Union will meet in Brussels on Wednesday for an extraordinary summit to try to settle its multi-annual budget.

What’s happened so far 
In November last year, Hungary vetoed an agreement by all the other member states to extend €50 billion ($55 billion USD) to Ukraine from the EU budget, arguing longer-term support should come from outside the budget. The proposal also includes EU financial support to address the migration crisis, natural disasters and security. The dispute with Budapest comes at a time when Hungary’s EU funding remains partially frozen due to rule-of-law breaches, which lawmakers call a “deliberate, continuous and systematic” effort to undermine the union’s values.
The impact
EU leaders are confident a deal with Hungary will be reached, even if they need to commit to the alternative option of providing the assistance to Ukraine through a separate financial vehicle outside the budget. Alternatively, reports say the remaining 26 EU countries could move ahead without Hungary, sending a message to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. This would involve each individual country committing to send money on their own. Meanwhile, some members suggested Hungary should be stripped of its voting rights following its “blackmail.”

Feb. 1 – OPEC+ to hold monitoring meeting  

On Thursday, the Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee of OPEC+ will virtually meet to discuss oil production plans. 

What’s happened so far
In November 2023, OPEC members, including Russia and Saudi Arabia, voluntarily agreed to cut oil production by 2.2 million barrels from eight oil-producing countries in January, attempting to maintain stability in the market following a steady drop in prices. The implementation of the cuts is set to be a topic of discussion, and it is likely that they remain in place following the meeting. Angola, which produces just over 1 million barrels a year, left the organization following the proposed cuts to production, saying it went against their national policies. 
The impact  
Shale oil supply from the United States, the difficulties of oil trade through the Red Sea, and a myriad of other effects have pushed OPEC+ members to cut production in order to keep prices of oil up. While Angola’s departure will not affect the group’s ability to influence prices with supply, market skepticism on the actual implementation of the cuts has held the price of oil to steady since the cuts began in early January. The meeting is set to double check that implementation, but OPEC+ will most likely remain firm in their production cuts until its next meeting.

What Else Matters

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)
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)

Ukrainian strikes on Russia’s Leningrad region 
Russia’s Leningrad region, including the city of St. Petersburg, witnessed combat this week for the first time since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine two years ago with multiple suspected drone strikes. The first strike targeted an oil terminal in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second largest city, with a projectile Ukraine claimed flew nearly 800 miles, marking the farthest reaching strike into Russia yet and the first strike on St. Petersburg since World War II. A second strike followed days later, hitting the massive Ust-Luga Baltic Sea fuel export terminal west of St. Petersburg, knocking the facility offline

Watch for: The pair of strikes prompted authorities in Russia’s Leningrad region to implement a high alert security mode featuring the repositioning of additional air defense assets to the region to thwart future attacks. The strikes underscore the extent to which the war in Ukraine continues to escalate in unforeseen ways two years into Russia’s full-scale invasion as fighting shows no signs of slowing along Ukraine’s long front. While Ukraine has consistently attempted to target energy infrastructure closer to its border to disrupt Russian logistical efforts to resupply its equipment of war, the strikes on larger export-oriented infrastructure in Leningrad signal a potential shift in Kyiv’s strategy to cause economic harm to Moscow

Strikes on Yemen
The American and British-led coalition launched renewed attacks on Yemen this week, striking at least eight targets in the country. According to the Pentagon, the coalition hit alleged underground storage sites and multiple surveillance bases of the Iran-backed Houthi group. U.K. Foreign Secretary David Cameron said the attacks were meant “to send the clearest possible message” to the Houthis, who have carried out dozens of attacks on international shipping through the Red Sea in response to Israel’s war on Gaza. These latest strikes are the second such incident after the coalition targeted sites in Yemen for the first time on Jan. 11.

Watch for: Although both U.S. and U.K. officials claim their aim is to deter the Houthis from carrying out further attacks on vessels traveling through the Red Sea, analysts are questioning whether these types of strikes would be able to reduce the Iran-backed group’s capabilities. The Houthis are not likely to change their position any time soon — a spokesperson vowed to continue carrying out attacks until a ceasefire in Gaza is reached and the siege on the Palestinian enclave is lifted.

Extended Outlook

What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…

Jan. 26-Feb. 2 

Jan. 26

  • French president visits New Delhi, India, for India Republic Day
  • Australia Day
  • Tuvalu elections

Jan. 28

  • Finnish presidential election

Jan. 29

  • Iran’s foreign minister visits Pakistan

Jan. 31

  • TikTok, Meta, X CEOs to testify at U.S. Senate hearing

Feb. 1

  • EU budget summit
  • OPEC+ to hold monitoring meeting

Feb. 3-9 

Feb. 4 

  • El Salvador election

Feb. 7

  • Azerbaijan election

Feb. 8

  • Pakistan elections

Feb. 10-16 

Feb. 11 

  • Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas

Feb. 14 

  • Indonesia election

Feb. 16

  • Munich Security Conference

Feb. 17-23 

Feb. 18

  • Kurdistan parliamentary election

Feb. 21 

  • MLS season scheduled to begin amid referee union negotiations

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