Americas: ELN hostage release could unblock formal peace talks
Sectors: all
Key Risks: terrorism; insurgency; political stability

In Colombia, the ELN guerrillas are expected to release former congressman Odin Sanchez Montes de Oca on 2 February. The release was agreed with the government in order to formalise exploratory peace talks on 7 February in Ecuador’s capital Quito. Odin Sanchez, held since April 2016, is expected to be handed over to the ICRC while the government is expected to pardon and release two ELN guerrillas. An agreement to launch formal peace talks had been announced in March 2016, but the process stalled given the ELN’s resistance to abandon kidnapping and to release Odin Sanchez, which became a government condition to initiate the talks. The process appears to be ready to move forward, although further delays cannot be ruled out. Even if talks proceed, the risk of ELN activity will persist, as will government operations against the guerrillas at least until significant agreements are reached.

Asia-Pacific: Defence Secretary Mattis tries to keep the East Asian alliance together
Sectors: all
Key Risks: instability; war

From 1-4 February US Defence Secretary James Mattis will visit Japan and South Korea amid concerns over the Trump administration’s commitment to East Asia. Mattis has a daunting task. During his election campaign President Trump alarmed many by suggesting that both countries should pay more towards the upkeep of the 50,000 US troops stationed in Japan and the 28,000 in South Korea. Japan was dismayed when Trump recently withdrew the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which had been central to Obama’s pivot to Asia. The fragile intelligence ties between South Korea and Japan have unravelled again over resurfacing historic grievances, and South Korean politicians are considering removing America’s Terminal High Altitude Air Defence missile system from their borders to placate China. Mattis will need to make a strong statement of America’s commitment to East Asia if he is to maintain America’s East Asian alliance.

Eurasia: conflict in Ukraine threatens to escalate again
Sectors: all
Key Risks: political violence; instability; war; terrorism

The Ukrainian military press centre reported 5 Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 14 wounded as a result of heavy clashes on 29 January, primarily in Avdiivka, a Ukrainian-held suburb northwest of Donetsk on 29 January. Mortars and small artillery attacks were also reported north-east of Mariupol, although such instances have remained common ever since the conflict reached its current lull two years ago. Ukraine alleged that 15 separatist militants were also killed in the fight around Avdiivka, alleging that they attempted to storm the down, but the separatists contradicted this. Fighting is ongoing and there is a significant risk of further escalation. Russia may seek to test Western resolve on Ukraine after US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin held their first phone conversation, although Trump mentioned neither Ukraine nor sanctions and US presidential officials indicated sanctions could be lifted based solely on an agreement to fight terrorism in Syria.

Europe: French elections and Greek debt are greatest risks to stability over coming months
Sectors: all
Key Risks: political instability

Left-winger Benedict Hamon’s defeat of former prime minister Manuel Valls in France’s 29 January Socialist primaries signifies a leftwards shift by Socialist voters and potentially recasts the presidential election itself, scheduled for 23 April with a second round on 77 May. Hamon is unlikely to make it to the second round of the election, with fellow leftist Jean Luc Melenchon splitting the left-wing vote. The move likely boosts independent Emmanuel Macron’s chances of making it to the second round, potentially at the expense of the Republican Francois Fillon. Recent polls indicate both Fillon and Macron would defeat the far-right Front National’s Marine Le Pen but a potential scandal involving Fillon’s family and the lack of an established party behind Macron will raise concerns. Concerns will also grow over the Greek economy as the IMF warned its debt was becoming increasingly unsustainable but no agreement on further haircuts is foreseeable until at least after the French elections and those in Germany on 24 September

MENA: Iraqi parliament retaliates with own US citizen ban request
Sectors: energy; power; business
Key Risks: protests; civil unrest; terrorism

Earlier today the Iraqi parliament voted in favour of reciprocating US President Trump’s Protecting The Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United State Executive Order issued on 27 January with their own to ban US citizens’ entry into Iraq. The vote is symbolic, as such a decision would require ratification by Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi’s cabinet, which will not be forthcoming. However, the consequences of the executive order for Iraqis are significant: several hundred thousand Iraqi nationals are green card holders; not only can they not visit their families, US businesses will be unable to host their Iraqi counterparts as part of investment negotiations. This will strain US-Iraqi relations at the highest level. It is  less-than-ideal to damage your relationship with one of your strongest allies on security while trying to find a solution to combat Islamic State.
Sub-Saharan Africa: Kenyan troops to return to South Sudan
Sectors: all
Key Risks: internal conflict

The UN and Kenya reached an agreement that will see Kenyan troops return to South Sudan after a dispute led to their withdrawal last year. Nairobi was angered when the Kenyan commander of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) was dismissed following the mission’s inadequate response to the outbreak of violence in Juba in July 2016. The agreement comes amid deteriorating relations between Kenya and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – in Opposition (SPLM-IO) after Kenya attempted to deport two opposition figures to Juba. The deportations would have contravened the international legal principle of non-refoulement, as did the deportation of an SPLM-IO spokesperson in November which drew condemnation from human rights groups and the UN. Some SPLM-IO figures vowed to take retribution on Kenyan nationals inside the country, although an injunction preventing the deportations has since been issued. However, the incident will raise concerns over Kenya’s impartiality and motives for re-joining the mission.