Americas: Venezuela’s Maduro to further consolidate power as new legislative period begins
Key Risks: political instability; violent unrest; protests; economic risks
In Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro’s regime will further consolidate its power once the 2021-2026 legislative period begins on 5 January, while the opposition, led by partially recognised interim president Juan Guaido, appears set to continue to debilitate. The Great Patriotic Pole (GPP) – the coalition led by the ruling PSUV – will take control of the currently opposition-led National Assembly (NA) after controversially winning legislative elections on 6 December which most of the opposition boycotted amid widespread claims of fraud and lack of fairness and transparency. Guaido, whose legitimacy as interim president stems from the fact that he is the head of the NA, has stated that he would not recognise the pro-Maduro NA, setting the stage for a heightened showdown in which the opposition is unlikely to succeed. An intensified crackdown on Guaido and his supporters should be expected.
Asia Pacific: New York Stock Exchange to delist three Chinese state-run telecom groups
Key Risks: political instability
The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) announced plans to delist China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom. The move follows an executive order signed in November 2020 that bars US investors from holding stakes in companies with ties to the People’s Liberation Army. China Mobile is China’s largest mobile operator, with US$107bln in revenue, and is one of the largest telecommunication companies in the world. All of the companies’ primary listings are in Hong Kong, which will limit the impact of the move. A major change in policy is unlikely under the US Biden administration, with bipartisan support for aggressive policies against China. More Chinese firms will likely be delisted from US exchanges and the decoupling of the US and Chinese economies will continue.
Eurasia: Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan elections; Nord Stream 2 falters; Afghan peace talks
Sectors: oil and gas; all
Key Risks: sanctions; business disruption; political uncertainty; civil unrest; political violence
The US Senate eventually passed the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act extending sanctions on the Russian Nord Stream 2 project currently under construction in Danish waters. In response, DNV, the Norwegian authenticator of the project’s safety standards, confirmed plans to cease its involvement. It is unclear whether Copenhagen would accept an equivalent Russian certification, even if identical standards are used. Sanctions apply to the pipeline’s continuing operation, not just its construction or initial verification, though Moscow has declared its intention to complete the project. 10 January presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan may trigger significant civil unrest due to continuing political upheaval. Parliamentary elections will take place the same day in Kazakhstan, where the ruling Nur-Otan party will remain the political hegemon. Intra-Afghan peace talks will resume on 5 January in Doha, though few developments are expected until US president-elect Biden takes office.
Europe: Italy’s government faces collapse; COVID-19 vaccinations and lockdowns across Europe
Key Risks: economic; political instability; travel
In Italy, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s government is at risk of collapse over the coming week as coalition partner Italia Viva, led by former prime minister Matteo Renzi, threatened to walk away from the coalition over Conte’s proposed economic recovery plans. A coalition vote on the plans is expected on 7 January and could see Italia Viva refuse to back the plan, triggering a government collapse. The latter would plunge the country into an ill-timed political crisis as COVID-19 cases rise again. Early elections would also be a possibility in the event of a collapse, though COVID-19-related restrictions could delay them. Meanwhile, the UK will start rolling out AstraZeneca jabs as the EU has started its first week of inoculations, though it faces shortages. Both the UK and EU members face heightened COVID-19-related lockdowns.
MENA: Iran increases uranium enrichment as tensions with US mount in Iraq
Sectors: military; oil & gas; all
Key Risks: war on land; violent clash
On 31 December Iran notified the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, that it planned to enrich uranium to up to 20 per cent purity at its Fordow facility. The decision takes Iran far past the 3.67 per cent enrichment limit stipulated in the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal, back to pre-2015 levels. Furthermore, tensions continue to rise in Iraq between the US and Iran. Attacks against US diplomatic and military assets in Iraq continued but did not increase in scale or severity on 3 January, the first anniversary of the killing of Iran’s Quds force Commander Qassam Sulaimani by the US in Baghdad. However, increasing nuclear enrichment and the continuation of small-scale attacks appear antagonistic to the outgoing US administration and brinkmanship in advance of the inauguration of US-president elect Joe Biden on 20 January. Tensions will likely increase before then.
Sub-Saharan Africa: Around 100 people killed in Niger twin attacks near Tondi Kiwindi, Tillaberi
Key Risks: terrorism; political violence; political uncertainty
In Niger, approximately 100 people were killed in two attacks in the villages of Tchombangou and Zaroumdareye near Tondi Kiwindi, Tillaberi region. The incidents came on the day of the announcement of the presidential election results, which showed ruling party candidate Mohamed Bazoum in the lead with 39 per cent of the votes. They followed an incident in nearby Taroum in which seven troops were killed on 24 December. The attackers are suspected to have crossed into Niger through the porous border with neighboring Mali. No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks in Tillaberi region where Islamist militants and inter-communal violence is prevalent. The wider Western Niger area has suffered ongoing militant attacks linked to al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS). There is a high risk of attacks ahead of the 21 February run-off election, when Bazoum will face former president Mahamane Ousmane.