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Watch List: June 20, 2018

Turkey preps for election, developments around Russia’s periphery, the balance of power inside Iran

Watch List

|June 22, 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.

Turkey: General elections are coming up on June 24. Keep an eye on the polls. What are the scenarios in play, and how, if at all, will they affect Turkish policy?

Azerbaijan: Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry is touting last month’s operation in which it retook land under Armenian control. The defense minister said Azerbaijan’s armed forces were preparing to liberate additional “occupied territories.” Perhaps Azerbaijan simply wanted to take advantage of political chaos in Armenia to grab a bit of territory, but we should be open to the possibility that this could be a prelude to something much larger.

Serbia, Kosovo: The presidents of Serbia and Kosovo will meet in Brussels on June 24, and reports suggest the European Union will pressure Serbia to implement previous agreements. Media in both countries are critical of their leaders. The situation is extremely volatile as it approaches what is shaping up to be a critical juncture. Let’s examine what pressure the EU can exert on Serbia as well as how Serbia might respond.

Kyrgyzstan: Kyrgyzstan’s government warned again of the Islamic State’s growing power in Central Asia. The secretary of the Security Council said that IS was spilling over the Afghan border, that the risk of IS attacks in the region was increasing and that Kyrgyz citizens were joining sleeper cells of banned organizations. We’ve heard these warnings before, but that doesn’t make them less significant, especially considering the Islamic State’s usual approach and the vulnerability of Central Asian governments.

Belarus, Russia: Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly had a chummy meeting in Minsk with his Belarusian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko. Belarus is one of the most important countries on Russia’s periphery, and there have been tensions between the two countries of late. Did those tensions represent a disagreement between friends, or is the media coverage of this visit papering over a split?

Russia: Russia significantly revised industrial production figures up, to 2.8 percent from 1.9 percent for the first quarter of 2018. A Russian official credited the improvement to small and medium-sized businesses. This type of development in the Russian economy, whereby small and midsized enterprises outside the military-industrial complex are driving stronger-than-expected growth, is exactly the sort of indicator that challenges our long-term perspective on the Russian economy, and therefore warrants closer scrutiny.

Iran: There are reports of a major clash between the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and President Hassan Rouhani over potential cuts to the IRGC’s budget. Meanwhile, the Rouhani administration said the government would act quickly to tackle high prices. On the foreign policy front, Iran said European proposals to modify the nuclear deal are insufficient. Rouhani appeared to have the upper hand against the IRGC, but this newest argument may indicate the balance is tipping the other way. How bad is inflation right now? And are Iran’s warnings about the nuclear deal just posturing, or is withdrawal imminent?

Yemen: The battle of Hodeida is not over yet. Iran-backed Houthi rebels have struck back at Saudi supply lines. What’s the latest, and how important is this battle really for the civil war?

Ethiopia: Eritrea’s president confirmed that his country would send a delegation to Ethiopia for talks soon. Meanwhile, South Sudan’s leader is in Ethiopia for a meeting, and Ethiopia and Somalia reached some kind of agreement recently. East Africa has been relatively quiet this year but things are happening now, and Ethiopia is at the center. We need a much better sense of what it is after.

Nepal: Ahead of his first official visit to Beijing, Nepalese Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli said Nepal will join China’s One Belt, One Road initiative. Nepal’s orientation matters greatly. It is one of the major flashpoints between India and China, and if the prime minister’s statement indicates more than politeness and a willingness to take Chinese checks, this should set off alarm bells in India.

Germany, France: German Chancellor Angela Merkel apparently accepted a French proposal for a euro area budget. Already her critics in the Bavarian Christian Social Union, part of Germany’s governing coalition, are railing against the move. Should we think of France as the major power in the EU right now? Has the challenge Merkel faces at home grown beyond just immigration policy?

U.S.: The U.S. is getting blasted by other countries after announcing that it was withdrawing from the U.N. Human Rights Council. The withdrawal is not the issue here, nor is U.S. immigration policy. The issue is that Guatemala has condemned the U.S. policy, and now there’s talk in Mexico of not just condemning it but taking some kind of action. The question for us is what damage this does, if any, to U.S. soft power in the world or to U.S. relationships with key countries in South America or Canada, where there is talk of boycotting U.S. goods.

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