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Watch List: Feb. 5, 2018

More Iran protests, London’s stability in Brexit negotiations, friction in the Balkans

|February 5, 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.

  • Iran: New protests materialized in Iran on Feb. 1-2. Women protesting the wearing of the hijab organized the protests, most of which were small, according to reports. A few unreliable reports suggested they were more widespread and targeted the government and supreme leader. On Feb. 2, the government announced it had arrested 29 people in connection with the demonstrations. What’s most notable in all this is that on Feb. 4, a presidential adviser reportedly released a 2014 government research report that said almost 50 percent of Iranians think the government should stay out of the hijab issue. At this point, even the smallest issues in Iran seem to be fodder for political factions. What do we know about the size and nature of the latest protests? Why was the 2014 report released? And have we seen any reactions from the Revolutionary Guard to the developments we covered last week?
  • Russia, Syria: Syrian militants shot down a Russian Su-25 ground attack plane Feb. 3 over Idlib province. The pilot ejected and was killed. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, formerly al-Qaida’s Syria branch, claimed responsibility. Has al-Qaida in Idlib demonstrated the ability in the past to bring down enemy aircraft? What implications, if any, does this have on Russia-Turkey relations?
  • Balkans: Large protests broke out across Greece over the Macedonia name issue. Meanwhile, Albania and Macedonia announced their intention to sign a defense cooperation agreement. And Serbia’s president said in an interview that a solution was needed to the Kosovo issue and that Serbians and Albanians both needed to compromise. The issue is not any one of these things but the sheer number of blips on the radar lately. Macedonia seems to be at the center of it. We should start by understanding Macedonia’s problems and perspective. The Albania-Serbia relationship is also becoming one of the most important bilateral relationships for us to watch.
  • United Kingdom: Brexit negotiations with the European Union restart in earnest on Feb. 5 in London. Prime Minister Theresa May’s government looks again like it is teetering; she’s caught on a tightrope between hard Brexiteers and soft Brexiteers. Watch for any leaks out of London. How precarious is May’s position? Is her government likely to fall, or is this just the sort of political drama we should expect around Brexit? What effect is this, or Germany’s political paralysis, having on the negotiations? What’s the deadline and benchmark for negotiations to reach their next phase?
  • Germany, Russia: Deputies from three regional German parliaments flew to Crimea to discuss the potential removal of Western sanctions against Russia. According to the Russian news agency TASS, they represented the nationalist Alternative for Germany party. This could just be some upstart politicians trying to stir the pot, but let’s take a closer look to assess whether this is an outlier or a sign of a change in public opinion in Germany over the Russia issue.
  • China, North Korea: Radio Free Asia and South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported on Chinese deployments of soldiers and weapons systems, including missile defense, to the border with North Korea. Chosun also noted a Jan. 24 report by Taiwan’s Central News Agency that a Chinese military unit had been equipped with new surface-to-air missiles. What’s our best read on the current levels of deployment and positioning of Chinese military forces on the border? Has there been a notable change? The article said there were 300,000 soldiers on the border – that would be difficult to hide. Do we see any evidence of it?


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