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Watch List: April 16, 2018

Preparing for Russian military action in Ukraine, NATO chief in Turkey, Syrian Kurdish response to missile strikes

|April 16, 2018

The items listed below represent potential emerging issues that our analysts are tracking. These can be long term or short term, but will be updated daily. If an item on our Watch List becomes critical, we will email you a full analysis explaining its significance.

Each Saturday, we will follow up our daily Watch List for each week with our conclusions on these issues.

Ukraine: Ukraine has gotten very vocal about Russian military threats. A Ukrainian security service official said the Kremlin plans to introduce troops in the fall. The headquarters of Ukraine’s security operation in Donbass announced that Russia’s Black Sea fleet in the Crimean port of Sevastopol is on high alert and increased its activity in the Sea of Azov. The secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine said Russia is moving anti-aircraft missile systems to Crimea and has some 30,000 troops there. And the interior minister warned of a Russian attack in the direction of Mariupol or in the Kramatorsk region. We are still watching for a Russian counter to the U.S.-led missile strikes in Syria. Given that Russia is in Syria to look strong to its public, it will probably need to do something. Ukraine would be the easiest location for Russia to act. Confirm what military assets Russia has in Ukraine and the Black Sea as well as any movements in that direction. Have we seen Ukraine take any measures to prepare military assets for a confrontation?

Turkey, NATO: NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is on an official visit in Ankara. In an interview before the visit, Stoltenberg said NATO was working to establish a training mission in Iraq in July. He also called on NATO allies to provide even more support for Turkey because it had suffered the most from terrorist attacks, and he recognized that Turkey has legitimate security concerns and needs to address them. Turkey, he said, is in talks with Italy and France to develop missile and air defense systems. It is also in early talks on the acquisition of U.S. Patriot batteries. We are interested in the strength of Turkish commitments to NATO and their cooperation. What details can we find about the planned training missions in Iraq? What type of additional support has Turkey sought from NATO that Stoltenberg could be referencing? What is the status of Turkey’s conversations with Italy, France and the U.S. over missile air defense?

Syria: There are reports that most Kurds in northern Syria opposed the U.S., British and French missile strikes over the weekend. Major Syrian Kurdish parties have not officially announced their position. We need to track the reaction of Kurdish parties, particularly of those that have been cooperating with the United States. Are there signs of a possible break in U.S.-Kurdish cooperation? The Kurds are an important force to U.S. operations and a source of conflict between the U.S. and Turkey. A change there would affect U.S.-Turkey relations.

China, Japan: China and Japan convened their first high-level economic talks in eight years. The countries will focus on opening up their service sectors, promoting collaboration and improving productivity. Both foreign ministers called for joint work to improve bilateral ties. Our forecast says Japan will come into direct competition with China. Does this meeting challenge our forecast? What tangible agreements, if any, were signed?

U.S.: Late last week, U.S. President Donald Trump said Washington would consider rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. The director of the National Economic Council and the U.S. trade representative have been studying the possibility. Trump said this was contingent on the U.S. getting a “substantially better” version of the deal. What’s driving this about-face from the White House, and how likely is it that the U.S. will move forward? How receptive will TPP participants be to a U.S. return? We also need to identify the business sectors and groups that would have an interest in the TPP (recall that farmers, for example, were instrumental in keeping NAFTA).

Poland: Poland’s prime minister announced that his country is in the midst of developing a new economic model. He noted the strong foreign presence in the Polish economy, particularly in industry, and the costs incurred due to interest, dividends and other transfers related to foreign ownership and shareholders. In Europe, the eastern economies are generally seen as more dynamic than the rest, and Poland has the largest economy. What major complaints has Poland had about foreign-led economic participation? What industries or other notable areas do foreign companies dominate?

China: Chinese bankers and researchers warned that One Belt, One Road projects are facing funding shortages and posing debt risks to participating countries. We have heard these sorts of warnings from governments in India and elsewhere as well as from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. But Beijing has tried to tamp down such concerns, making warnings coming out of China notable. This comes as typically pro-U.S. countries like South Korea and Singapore have expressed cautious but growing interest in cooperating with One Belt, One Road. What’s behind the latest warnings, and how unusual is it for Chinese voices to buck the party line on this issue? Are we seeing a sea change in how the project is perceived?

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