Americas: Key Canada-US border crossing reopens; ‘Freedom Convoy’ protests continue
Sectors: all; automotive
Key Risks: business and economic risks; supply chain disruption; civil unrest
In Canada, on 13 February police cleared most ‘Freedom Convoy’ protesters from Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ontario province, easing a six-day blockade and reopening the border crossing accounting for 25 per cent of bilateral trade with the US. Officials stated that 20 to 30 demonstrators were detained while protests continued at another border crossing in Surrey, British Columbia province, and in downtown Ottawa. The protests against COVID-19 vaccine mandates have affected Canadian cities and border crossings since late January, prompting officials to declare a state of emergency in the capital Ottawa and in Ontario province. The unrest has caused automotive supply chain frictions, forcing Ford, General Motors and Toyota to cut production at their US and Canadian plants. The ‘Freedom Convoy’ movement has also inspired similar protests in France, New Zealand and elsewhere. Further disruption is expected.
Asia Pacific: Protesters remain defiant in Australia and New Zealand
Key Risks: civil unrest; business disruptions
In Australia, at least 10,000 protesters congregated in the capital Canberra demanding the end of COVID-19 vaccine mandates. The rally came amid a week-long protest that began on 8 February during which cars and trucks, inspired by Canada’s trucker protests, blocked roads and targeted local businesses for complying with public health orders. Protesters also reportedly blocked roads around the airport as politicians returned to the city for parliamentary sitting. Protesters defied a police order to disperse by 13 February and there is a heightened risk of violent confrontations. Similarly, in New Zealand, hundreds of protesters continued to camp out near Parliament in Wellington for a second straight week. More than 120 people have been arrested thus far. Protesters remain undeterred. With protests likely to continue near Parliament, there is a high risk of localised disruption.
Eurasia: US warns of immediate threat of Russian invasion of Ukraine
Key risks: war on land; sanctions; business disruption
On 11 February Washington warned of the immediate threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan stated that there was a ‘credible prospect’ of Moscow launching an attack before the end of the Winter Olympic Games on 20 February. Separately, German magazine Der Spiegel reported that the US was concerned that Moscow could attack Ukraine as early as 16 February. Washington did not confirm the report. Meanwhile, during a meeting with President Vladimir Putin on 14 February, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu stated that some of the ongoing drills in Belarus would be concluded in the near future, while Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov suggested that Moscow should continue talks with the West. A large-scale Russian invasion remains uncertain. Further diplomatic efforts to defuse tensions are expected in the coming week.
Europe: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on diplomat mission in Ukraine, Russia
Sectors: all; energy; oil and gas; defence
Key Risks: trade; business risks; sanctions
On 14 February German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kiev before heading to talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Scholz is expected to offer Kiev further financial assistance to help stabilise the economy, and may approve non-lethal military equipment supplies, but will not waver on Berlin’s refusal to supply lethal equipment. Scholz is expected to urge Putin to de-escalate tensions and to warn him that tough EU sanctions would be imposed in the case of any attack on Ukraine. Scholz is much less likely to offer assurances to either Kiev or Moscow on Berlin’s position on the Nord Stream 2 (NS2) gas pipeline. Whilst pledging Germany’s support for any potential EU sanctions package in the event of a Russian attack, Scholz has been reluctant to even mention the controversial NS2 project in recent weeks.
MENA: Libya’s rival east and west parliaments further divided after election of new eastern PM
Key Risks: political instability; civil unrest; war-on-land
In Libya, on 7 February the rival eastern Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR) announced plans to replace the western-based interim Prime Minister Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah of the internationally recognised Government of National Unity. HoR Parliament Speaker Aguila Saleh called al-Dbeibah illegitimate as his tenure should have ended in December 2021. On 10 February the HoR appointed former interior minister Fathi Bashagha as prime minister after failing to hold presidential elections in December 2021. Al-Dbeibah rejected the appointment of the eastern-based parliament. On the same day, al-Dbeibah survived an assassination attempt when unidentified assailants fired at his car in Tripoli. On 12 February 300 armoured vehicles belonging to ‘Joint Operations Forces’ fighters from Misrata, Khoms and Zlitan converged in Tripoli to support al-Dbeibah. Mobilisation by armed forces underscores the risk of fresh fighting between warring factions due to the ongoing political crisis.
Sub-Saharan Africa: France responds to Benin attacks amid doubts over West African mission
Key Risks: political violence
At the Benin-Burkina Faso border, 40 militants were killed in French air strikes on 12 February. The targets were reportedly responsible for attacks in W National Park in northern Benin on 8 and 10 February when nine people – including one French trainer – were killed. The incidents could indicate the beginning of a sustained increase in attacks in Benin following a southwards spread of militant activity into littoral West Africa in recent months. France’s response, which occurred amid reports that President Emmanuel Macron is planning to withdraw from Mali over hostility from its military junta, begs the question as to whether France could redirect its resources to support coastal West Africa or whether it will leave Benin and its neighbours to their own devices. Regardless, recent incidents indicate that West Africa has become increasingly exposed to Islamist militant violence.