Week 19: 10 May – 17 May

Global Intelligence Summary

  • There is a realistic possibility of an overall increase in Argentina’s risk levels following worrying developments regarding infrastructure, economics, and social issues.
  • An assault on a prison van in France highly likely signals the offensive capabilities of crime syndicates in the country, and likely increases the risks of violence during the Olympic Games.
  • The dismantling of an Iranian army-smuggling operation by Jordan almost certainly demonstrates the Kingdom’s worries about growing anti-government sentiment at home.
  • There is a realistic possibility that the ChineseRussian talks will deepen military cooperation between the two countries, as Beijing likely supports a continuation of the Russia-Ukraine war.

AMER

Canada: Evacuations as wildfire season begins

Argentina: Signals of possible increase in country risk levels

Panama and Colombia: Children crossing Darien Gap increase 40%

France: Van ambush is latest security nightmare for Paris

Slovakia: Assassination attempt on Prime Minister Fico

Israel and Palestine: IDF operations in Jabalia and Rafah

Jordan: Kingdom dismantles Iranian gun-smuggling operation

British Antarctica: Massive oil discovery worries Whitehall

China: Xi and Putin hold bilateral talks

New Caledonia: Proposed reform causes widespread clashes


The most powerful solar storm to hit the Earth in the last 20 years took place during this reporting period. Despite some worries about possible disruptions to power grids and satellite communications, the event did not have any major adverse effects on the general population but caused some degradation in the accuracy of some satellite-based services.

Nakba Day, the commemoration of the expulsion of 750,000 Arab Palestinians from the Palestinian territories during the 1947-1949 Arab-Israeli War, occurred on 15 May. Protests were recorded across Europe, North America, and the Middle East, which focused on opposing current Israeli operations in Gaza.

On 21 May, Ireland, Spain and several other EU members will jointly recognise Palestine as a sovereign state. The move, is likely to result in civil unrest, and may prompt an immediate degradation in relations with Tel Aviv, also affecting Brussels. It was most likely prompted by domestic pressures.


Canada: Wildfire season begins

Firefighters in western Canada are fighting the first major wildfires of the 2024 wildfire season. Thousands of residents have been ordered to evacuate the areas around the town of Fort Nelson, British Columbia, as an out-of-control wildfire approaches the area which has already burnt an estimated 20,000 acres. Reporting from the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre indicates that Canada is currently struggling to contain nearly 120 major wildfires, with most located in the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta.

Solace Global Assessment:  Canada’s wildfire season typically runs from April to September or October when temperatures decrease, and precipitation increases. However, the extent of the current wildfires, in terms of both size and intensity, has prompted concerns that this year’s wildfire season will be worse than average. Unseasonably warm temperatures and drought have almost certainly shaped conditions favourable to the spread of wildfires. The current drought monitor map released by the Government of Canada highlights severe, extreme, or exceptional drought conditions across significant portions of British Columbia, Alberta, the Northwest Territories, and Saskatchewan provinces. Additionally, nearly half of the country is experiencing moderate drought, indicating a heightened risk of wildfires spreading rapidly across various regions of Canada. In 2023, nearly three-quarters of the Northwest Territories were forced to flee their homes, an area traditionally immune to wildfires. The fires have also highlighted the fragility of rural communities that often rely on limited infrastructure. Communities not directly affected by the wildfires have suffered from internet and phone blackouts with residents unable to contact emergency services, failed electronic payments, ATM failures and transport disruption, with some communities reliant on only one supply route. The scale of the wildfires has been attributed to climate change with experts warning that it will result in areas historically spared by wildfires being affected. There have already been calls for Canada to tighten its emission caps on the oil and gas sector – a contentious issue in a country where these industries contribute approximately 5-7 per cent of its GDP. As the wildfires continue to spread, there is a high probability that climate-motivated protests will increase across Canada.


Panama and Colombia: Child migration in Darien Gap up 40% in 2024

A UNICEF report estimates that, so far in 2024, more than 30,000 children have traversed the dangerous routes that cross the jungle between Colombia and Panama, out of a total of 140,000 people. UNICEF predictions project that up to 800,000 migrants, 160,000 children, will travel through the area this year. The Darien Gap is one of the last completely undeveloped regions on earth, and traversing the thick jungle poses massive health risks, with chances of rescue almost non-existent. Panama’s President-elect José Raúl Mulino has vowed to shut down migration routes through the country.

Solace Global Assessment: So far, Panama has been a necessary stop for migrants seeking to reach the US from South America. The country’s governments have aided migration, providing busses to transport migrants from the edge of the Darien Gap to the country’s northern borders. Still, the Gap continues to represent a particularly perilous journey, but it is likely preferred by migrants who do not have the means to tackle maritime routes. Moreover, organised crime in Colombia has increasingly profited from helping migrants reach and cross the approximately 100 kilometres of jungle. Still, migrants paying smugglers face increased risks, including sexual assault, theft, and murder. Additionally, the increase in migrant inflows has likely favoured the development of local bandit networks, which carry out violent attacks and kidnappings on the transiting migrants. President Mulino, who will take office on 1 July, is likely responding to increasing pressure from the US government, which is increasingly trying to stifle migration at its southern border. With little border infrastructure currently in place, it is almost certain that efforts in this direction will be conducted through a massive deployment of security forces in and around the Gap, seeking to intercept migrants before they reach the inhabited parts of the country. However, such a measure would likely exacerbate humanitarian issues in the Darien Gap, possibly increasing transit times and therefore worsening health risks. Moreover, if it achieves its deterrent purpose, it will almost certainly result in an increased number of migrants undertaking the more perilous maritime routes, possibly creating broader regional consequences, as well as impacting maritime transport and activity in the Gulf of Panama. 


Argentina: Budget records further surpluses, but other developments signal increasing risk levels.

The Argentine government announced its fourth consecutive month of budget surpluses, the first in two decades. However, this reporting period has seen a series of incidents that may hint at a general increase in the overall risk levels for Argentina. This piece tries to present a few snapshots, highlighting economic, social, and infrastructural issues.

Solace Global Assessment:  The budget surplus is likely to further boost Milei’s claims that his unorthodox economic policies are working to change course on decades of economic stagnation. Coming from a period of severe protests, it may improve the president’s approval ratings, currently hovering at around 50 per cent. While praised by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for his reforms, Milei is still seeking to unlock further IMF funds, in addition to the USD 800 million that are part of the loan programme’s current schedule, and which are needed to repay interest on Buenos Aires past borrowing. After taking office, Milei simply warned that “there is no money”, and the statement, months into the administration, has taken a tangible form. On 10 May, a major train collision in the Palermo neighbourhood of Buenos Aires resulted in at least 90 injuries and has promoted a judicial enquiry. Early indications suggest that the copper cable used to carry power along the tracks had been stolen leading to a signal failure. Union leaders had been demanding that the stolen cables be repaired for ten days before the incident to which the government allegedly replied that there were no funds for spare parts. The incident will almost certainly be linked to President Milei’s economic austerity measures and refusal to invest in public infrastructure, and it may hint at a growing risk regarding public and private transport within Argentina. Declining infrastructural standards may have unpredictable adverse effects on business in the country, leading to disruptions and delays, as well as physical damages to individuals and assets. Further warning signals have also been recorded at the social level. Over the course of last week, three women died days after having been deliberately burned in a homophobic attack. On 6 May, a man reportedly threw a Molotov cocktail inside a boarding house room where two lesbian couples were staying. The only surviving victim remains at the hospital but is expected to survive as of the time of writing. Over the last few years, Argentina has become considered one of the most socially progressive South American countries. In 2010, Buenos Aires legalised same-sex marriage, and the country has introduced stricter legislation against identity-based discrimination. While Milei describes himself as an “anarchist” socially, civil society actors have raised alarms concerning the rise of hate crimes and discrimination in the country, seemingly encouraged by the president’s “anti-woke” rhetoric and actions. Activists have decried the abolition of state institutions providing resources for victims, and others monitoring incidents of violence and harassment. While these gestures could be construed as “cost-cutting” measures, Milei has also more directly engaged in anti-progressive discourse, for instance symbolically renaming, on International Women’s Day, the presidential palace’s “Hall of Women” into the “Hall of Heroes”. Furthermore, Milei’s increasingly violent repression of anti-government demonstrations has likely emboldened far-right voices within the country, possibly leading to an increase in the risk of civic violence and unrest.


Politics, Economics and Civil Unrest

The two candidates for the 2024 US Presidential elections have agreed on holding two presidential debates before the vote in November. Former President Donald Trump and incumbent President Joe Biden will meet to debate their platforms in Georgia, on 27 June, and in an unspecified location on 10 September. The Georgia debate, which will take place in an important swing state, will not be attended by a live audience, as the organisers likely worry about the extremely charged nature of this electoral season. The debates are almost certainly going to result in localised travel disruptions and may entail an increased risk of domestic, “lone-wolf”, terrorism.

On 15 May, Washington removed Cuba from its list of countries “not cooperating fully” against terrorism. The move is likely meant to signal the US’ openness to further improve diplomatic relations with the island state. In recent years, Cuba has improved security and intelligence ties with Moscow, and there is a high likelihood that Russian intelligence assets operate on the island from the Lourdes SIGINT station, which had already been used by their Soviet predecessors. While unlikely to result in any short-term changes, the announcement will likely be received warmly in Havana.

On 19 May, voters in the Dominican Republic will decide the country’s next president and members of Congress. All three of the leading candidates have promised to tackle illegal immigration from neighbouring Haiti which continues to be afflicted with gang warfare and a total lack of security. Incumbent President Luis Abinader has promised to finish constructing a border wall, a move that has been condemned by human rights groups due to the extent of violence in Haiti.

Security, Armed Conflict and Terror

Observers in the United States have recorded an increase in the number of threats targeting New York Justice Juan Merchan and other individuals involved in the hush money trial of former President Donald Trump, following the latter’s online posts. Having been banned from X.com (formerly Twitter), Facebook, and other “mainstream” social media channels, Trump has increasingly been communicating with supporters through “Truth Social”, a Twitter-like site which has attracted almost exclusively pro-Trump users. The trial proceedings have increased the threat of lone-actor terrorist action in New York, and a verdict adverse to Trump’s camp may lead to a growing likelihood of ideologically motivated violent action.

In Canada, a fourth man was charged with killing Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar. Canadian officials are currently investigating possible connections between the alleged killers and the Indian government, claiming that Delhi organised the assassination of the leader to stifle the reach of the Khalistan independentist movement. The case will likely continue to affect tensions in Canada, and, in particular, regarding the country’s current immigration system.

Environment, Health and Miscellaneous

Thousands of people in Canada’s British Columbia province have been evacuated due to the growth of a large wildfire in the province’s northeast. British Columbia is one of Canada’s main centres for the extraction of natural gas, and a hub for Canadian commerce towards Asia. Disruptions caused by the fire could negatively affect the local economy, and create shipping delays to and from Canada, were the phenomena to worsen. In 2023, Canada saw its worst wildfire season on record, as fires have become more severe due to drier and hotter weather conditions. This case is highly likely not to remain isolated, as the risk of wildfires will grow significantly in the coming months across Canada and much of North America.

Two people have died in Louisiana, and hundreds have been displaced due to tornadoes sweeping through the southern US. Power cuts and traffic disruptions have also been recorded, with the area of Baton Rouge particularly affected. Tornado season in the US takes place between March and June, and this spring has seen a high frequency of extreme weather events. In Texas, recent flooding has been compounded by severe hailstorms, which have damaged infrastructure, and particularly affected agricultural businesses in the area.

Authorities in the southernmost Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul have warned that flooding that has affected much of the state, including the metropolitan area of Porto Alegre, will take weeks to subside. Parts of the state have seen more than 630mm (25 inches) of rain already this month. Flooding has resulted in widespread supply chain disruption, killed almost 150 people and displaced over half a million, with further rain forecasted in the coming days.  


France: Gunmen kill three guards, free inmate from prison van in latest security nightmare for Paris

In the morning of 14 May, a prison van carrying a high-ranking drug cartel member from Marseille was ambushed at a highway toll booth in the Eure department, in the country’s north. Videos released online show at least three assailants, armed with submachineguns, open fire on the prison van and its police escort, after crashing an SUV into the lead vehicle to immobilise it. At the time of the attack, the van was transporting Mohamed Amra, reportedly a leader of a drug-trafficking syndicate based in Marseille who had been a suspect in various cases of homicide, armed theft, and attempted homicide. French authorities have launched a massive search to find the fugitive and the perpetrators of the attack.

Solace Global Assessment:  The ambush took place in the Eure district, which borders the region of Paris. In recent years, the city of Marseille has become a hotspot for drug trafficking in France and Europe, especially due to the arrival of large shipments of South American cocaine which have increasingly carved a larger portion of the European drug market. Gangs in Marseille have increasingly engaged in clashes for control within the city and in its outskirts, which have resulted in dozens of deaths. French authorities recorded 2023 as the deadliest year for drug wars in the city, with a reported 47 deaths and 118 injuries. The Macron administration has been haemorrhaging votes to its right-wing opposition and has increasingly sought to take a “tough on crime” stance to recover some lost support. This imperative has become even more important with the approaching Olympic Games, set to begin in July. In March 2024, the administration launched a major crackdown operation in Marseille, which led to almost 200 arrests. Still, it is unlikely that past operations have dented the pervasiveness of gang presence in the city, which is fuelled by socioeconomic inequalities and important levels of deprivation, as well as the existence of quasi-segregated peripheral quarters, where the French police exercise very little control. Importantly, these same parts of the city often see a strong Islamist presence, including by groups associated with Middle East-based Sunni radical organisations. In 2018, a radical Salafi preacher was expelled from France to Algeria after being reported for preaching sermons targeting Jews, women and Shiites in one of Marseille’s main mosques, and, in more recent years, local imams have launched appeals to Paris warning against the local penetration of Salafi extremist thought in the more deprived parts of the city. The high sophistication of the attack on the prison van is likely indicative of France’s drug gangs’ growing offensive capabilities and there is a realistic possibility that Islamist groups have access to much of the same assets due to their overlap with gang networks and the communities where they operate. With the Paris Olympics on the horizon, the ambush highlights the severe security risks that the Games will face.


Slovakia: Populist Prime Minister in hospital after suspected assassination attempt.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico is in a serious but stable condition after being shot multiple times on 15 May. The attack occurred in the small town of Handlova while Fico was meeting with supporters outside a cultural centre. He was rushed to F. D. Roosevelt University Hospital in Banska Bystrica, where he underwent a five-hour surgery and is in intensive care at the time of writing. The alleged suspect, reportedly a 71-year-old writer and political activist, was detained at the scene.

Solace Global Assessment: The shooting of Prime Minister Fico was almost certainly politically motivated and is widely being reported as an assassination attempt. At the time of writing, however, no group has claimed responsibility for it, and it appears almost certain that the perpetrator acted alone. Fico secured office in October 2023 after running a divisive campaign marked by a populist agenda. He has been one of the few outspoken European leaders championing rapprochement with Russia and Slavonic solidarity, often calling for an end to the EU’s military support for Ukraine, with Slovakia halting all arms deliveries to Kyiv. Fico’s populist government has recently approved a proposal to abolish the country’s public broadcaster and replace it with a new body as well as weakening anti-corruption laws. These developments have generated fears regarding the independence of the media and the state of democracy in Slovakia, leading to widespread protests. Anecdotal reporting indicates that this may have been the motivation for the assassination, with Fico’s ruling SMER party also suggesting that false narratives propagated by the opposition have contributed to the shooting. The incident will almost certainly lead to heightened security measures in the country and, in the long term, it could be exploited to suppress dissent and push through some of SMER’s more contentious proposals. Finally, there have been reports of Russian-affiliated accounts on social media channels carrying out information operations alleging Ukrainian or NATO responsibility for the attempted assassination, with some posts calling for violence against European officials. Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has contributed to this discourse, hinting at the theory that the attack was linked to Fico’s “reasonable” stance on Russia. While the risk of terrorism remains low, there is a realistic possibility of cases of targeted violence and harassment against Slovakian pro-EU officials and political figures in the coming weeks.


Israel and Palestine: IDF operations in Jabalia and Rafah

After launching the first phase of their offensive into the southern Gazan city of Rafah, Israel Defence Forces (IDF) have re-entered the Jabalia, in the north, where they were met with heavy resistance from Hamas elements. With the invasion of Gaza so far having failed in its objectives to destroy Hamas and rescue the approximately 100 Israeli hostages still in Palestinian captivity, a rift opened, or came to the fore, in the Netanyahu administration as Defence Minister Yoav Gallant raised a public objection to the proposal of setting up an Israeli military government in Gaza after the end of hostilities.

Solace Global Assessment:  The IDF identified Jabalia as a stronghold of Hamas resistance in Gaza and conducted operations to neutralise it shortly after entering the Gaza Strip in October 2023. By late December 2023, IDF forces reported having destroyed three Hamas battalions following heavy combat in the Jabalia refugee camp. The recent restart of fighting there, the most severe increase in the north of the Gaza Strip since the Al-Shifa hospital raid, encapsulates the failures of the IDF to prevent the re-infiltration of Hamas elements in previously cleared areas. It is likely that Tel Aviv recognises that these difficulties are endemic. Despite significant casualties, Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups continue to retain enough assets to challenge IDF units in the Gaza Strip’s dense urban landscape. They are also still able to recruit from the hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians. Moreover, the Netanyahu administration likely realises the important political dimension of the conflict for its “survival” at home. Seven months into the conflict, having expended significant political capital at home and abroad, the Likud-led government finds itself in a political dilemma. On one side, its electoral base continues to support the war effort in a rather hawkish manner and is impatient due to the ongoing failures to achieve the war’s stated strategic goals. On the other, the remark by Gallant seems to indicate a growing realisation, or admission, that Gaza is essentially “unwinnable”: even if Sinwar and the other Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip are captured or killed, and the remaining Hamas elements neutralised, large numbers of IDF troops would necessarily need to remain stationed in the area to prevent the creation of new Hamas units or successor groups. Essentially, this would rewind the Israeli position on Gaza by two decades, likely, however, reigniting the same political pressures for the recognition of a Palestinian state that had expedited the decision for the 2005 troop withdrawal from the Strip (albeit without the added issue of the dismantling of settlements). The prospect of a protracted military occupation, which a reported leaked confidential paper puts at a cost of USD 5.4 annually, would also bring back memories from southern Lebanon, whose occupation after the 1982-1985 war proved economically and strategically unfeasible. However, it is unclear what other exit scenarios exist, even if Israeli goals are achieved. Among the plans being discussed in Tel Aviv, an appealing one likely sees local clan leaders and civilian parties create a joint government to manage the Gaza Strip, with limited but constant cooperation with Israeli forces, and possibly with the oversight of an Arab state. However, it is unlikely that Cairo, or any of the Gulf States, will seek to engage in a policy of management that would prove extremely unpopular at home – and would possibly expose it to diplomatic embarrassment were a successor of Hamas to gain traction in Gaza. Moreover, it is not clear if any such internal parties exist. Hamas’ killing of a Doghmush clan leader in March highlights the group’s keen awareness of its necessity to root out potential challengers, and it is likely that significant progress has been made in this direction. No matter how unlikely to succeed this scenario, and other ones, are, however, it is almost certain that the Netanyahu administration will try to avoid mentioning a clear alternative: the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces following the end of hostilities, and the return to a policy of isolating Gaza while carrying out occasional incursions to reduce the strength of a resurgent Hamas. This would amount to a political failure – and a self-inflicted one, due to Netanyahu’s continuous pledge to destroy Hamas – and will almost certainly represent the end of the current Likud administration.


Jordan: Iranian weapons smuggling operation discovered by Jordanian authorities.

On 15 May, Jordanian sources reported that the Kingdom of Jordan had foiled a plot by Iran to smuggle weapons into the country to arm anti-monarchy activists and members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood organisation. The plot’s dismantling reportedly dated back to March. The routes allegedly ran through Syria and were coordinated through connections between Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas elements. Iran has already been reported as running weapons smuggling operations into the West Bank, in an effort to arm Palestinian militants. Jordan is considered to be one of the most stable countries in the region, and the Kingdom contributed to the interceptions of Iranian drones and missiles during Tehran’s massive strike against Israel in April.

Solace Global Assessment:  Jordanian intelligence and security forces have likely been aware of Iranian arms smuggling efforts aimed at arming the Palestinians, and the timing of the crackdown suggests a likely growing worry in the Kingdom’s ruling circles. Jordan’s population is largely of Palestinian heritage, and almost wholly supportive of the Palestinian cause. The monarchy’s pro-Western stance is largely tolerated, but the ongoing Israeli offensive in Gaza has contributed to making anti-government dissent more vocal and bolder. The Hashemite family has responded to this situation by boosting its criticism of Israel, including by withdrawing their ambassador from Tel Aviv, in an effort to align itself more with popular feelings. However, the exacerbation of the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip has resulted in a growing number of particularly aggressive demonstrations, with protesters notably attempting to storm the Israeli embassy in Amman in late March. Iran, which has placed itself successfully at the head of the global pro-Palestine movement, likely sees the destabilisation of Jordan as particularly desirable to both reinforce its influence in the West Bank through a loosening of the frontier between the two territories and to reduce the American footprint in the region. By arming Muslim Brotherhood elements, Tehran possibly seeks to favour acts of terrorism targeting local authorities and security forces, or alternatively spark further protests more directly aimed at the government. A worsening of the political situation in Jordan would negatively affect the numerous NGOs and humanitarian organisations that operate in the country. In a worst-case scenario, it may result in a reduction of Western counterterrorism operations in neighbouring Syria and Iraq, creating a medium-term opening for a growing influence of Islamist groups.


British Antarctica: Whitehall discusses Russian Antarctic oil and gas discoveries.

The results of a series of studies carried out by the Russian ship Alexander Karpinsky in 2020 have revealed the presence of massive oil and gas deposits in the Antarctic territory claimed by Britain. Last week, the findings have sparked debate in the UK Parliament. Both Russia and the UK are signatories to the 1959 Antarctic Treaty and the 1991 Environmental Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty, which bans the exploitation of mineral resources in the continent.

Solace Global Assessment: The Alexander Karpinsky, which was formally in the region to conduct scientific research, was much more likely involved in Russian prospecting operations. The find, which dates back four years, is strategically extremely important. According to current estimates, the deposits, located under the Weddell Sea, would amount to around 511 billion barrels worth of oil, or ten times the output of the North Sea deposits over the last 50 years. The deposits fall not only under the UK’s claim but also under claims by Chile and Argentina, which partially overlap with the British one. The question of Antarctic sovereignty continues to be a grey area, as the 1959 Treaty clearly states its non-impact over signatories’ sovereignty claims, which remain pending. Moreover, while the treaty covers Antarctic land and ice shelves, it does not extend to the seas surrounding it, meaning that possible claims of exclusive interest would fall under customary and treaty law. While the treaties’ texts seemingly state that Arctic claims do not generate Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs), claimant states have de facto repeatedly asserted their ownership of Antarctic maritime zones. The result of this situation is a status quo where the legitimacy of a specific state’s claims would necessarily rest only upon the acquiescence of other treaty signatories, a condition that is unlikely to materialise due to the, so far, perceived lack of meaningful incentives. The lack of clarity and coverage in the Antarctic treaties has already led to increased competition, especially with regard to the marine resources present in the area. Russia and China, in particular, continue to hinder efforts to extend protections to wildlife in the areas and conduct intensive fishing operations that are likely contributing to threatening the volume of krill and fish in Antarctic waters. In strategic terms, Britain’s Antarctic claim is bolstered by the UK’s overseas Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of the Falkland Islands and the South Georgian and the South Sandwich Islands, all of which are disputed by Argentina, that claims the islands as part of its own sovereign territory. It is almost certain that the increase in Russia’s exploration and prospecting operations in the Antarctic follows from broader strategic imperatives. Even before the invasion of Ukraine, the Putin regime, whose attempts to effectively diversify Russia’s economy have failed, increasingly sought to maintain capital inflows and domestic government spending levels through the provision of cheap fossil fuels to China and other international partners. With the isolation that followed the invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s interest in further oil and gas deposits has likely increased. In recent years, almost certainly due to the opportunities posed by the exploitation of fishing grounds, China has also seen its interest in the Antarctic increase. In February 2024, Beijing inaugurated its fifth research station on the continent, raising concerns about a possible increase in Chinese security and intelligence activities. The Russian discovery, as well as possible future ones, may reduce the stability of the precarious status quo that has so far “frozen” the various states’ claims, and lead to a much more unclear regional environment.


Politics, Economics and Civil Unrest

In Sweden, the nation’s largest labour union, Unionen, stated, on 14 May, its support for the Tesla workers currently engaged in a six-month-long strike. The strike concerns workers’ demands for collective bargaining. The announcement may result in an increase in the cases of sabotage of Tesla cars and assets by leftist and ecological activists.

The Catalan Socialist Party (PSC) has secured the most seats in the Catalan regional elections after independence parties lost support. Nationalist parties no longer control Catalonia’s regional parliament, a development that will almost certainly be deemed a major blow for the independence movement. The results will likely be sold as a vindication for Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s coalition tactics and controversial amnesty bill that has garnered opposition from the right and triggered unrest within Spain.

On 12 May, voters in Lithuania voted in the nation’s presidential elections. Incumbent Gitanas Nauseda won the first round in voting, winning 44 per cent of votes, just coming short of the 50 per cent required to automatically secure a victory. Nauseda will now go up against Prime Minister Ingrdia Šimonytė during a run-off election on 26 May. This repeats the 2019 elections where a run-off between these two were held. Early indications are that Nauseda will secure a re-election; however, the election highlighted growing anti-establishment sentiment, potentially signalling a move in favour of pro-Russian parties in the country’s upcoming parliamentary elections.

Unionised public sector workers belonging to the Greek Civil Servants’ Confederation (ADEDY) are set to conduct a nationwide 24-hour strike on 21 May over issues of pay and workers’ rights, with protestors set to convene outside the Ministry of Finance in Athens. The organisers of the strike have yet to announce which areas will be affected but there is a realistic possibility that the strikes will impact the transport and health sectors, leading to localised disruptions.

Renewed protests have taken place in the Armenian capital of Yerevan. Demonstrators have called on the government to reverse its decision to concede land to neighbouring Azerbaijan and the opposition is seeking ways to impeach the current Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. Protests have blocked major roads in and out of the capital and the security services have arrested hundreds of demonstrators. The demonstrations are unlikely to end soon with thousands calling for the resignation of Pashinyan and elements of the Armenia Apostolic Church endorsing the protests.

On 12 May, Tunisian protesters took to the streets in Tripoli to demand the release of imprisoned journalists and activists and a date for new elections. While his five-year term is set to expire in 2024, Tunisian President Kais Saied is yet to announce a date for the vote. At the same time, the country, at one point considered the only “success story” of the Arab Spring, has continued to experience significant authoritarian backsliding, with Saied concentrating significant powers under the presidency. The protests, which continue at the time of writing and are yet to reach severe proportions, may cause significant disruption, or violence, depending on the authorities’ response.

Security, Armed Conflict and Terror

Three men in the UK have been charged with offences under the National Security Act, including assisting Hong Kong’s intelligence service and foreign interference. The men are accused of undertaking information gathering, surveillance, and acts of deception likely to aid a foreign intelligence service. The arrests were part of the Metropolitan Police’s counterterrorism investigations and follow a suspected Chinese hack of the UK Ministry of Defence’s payroll system, likely indicating the level of espionage China conducts within or against the UK. The Chinese embassy in London condemned the UK’s accusations, stating Hong Kong’s affairs are China’s concern.

In Rouen, France, a suspected terrorist was shot and killed by police forces after setting fire to the city’s Synagogue. The attack was likely linked to anti-Israeli sentiment. France is the Western European state with the largest Jewish population and has seen a massive increase in antisemitic attacks following 7 October.

Turkey has expanded its military operations against Kurdish militants in Syria with reports suggesting that Turkish forces, alongside the allied Syrian National Army (SNA), have been shelling villages and burning farmlands in the Manbij province, provoking concerns over food security in the area. Turkish forces have also prosecuted Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) targets in Iraqi Kurdistan. Ankara is likely exploiting the withdrawal of Western forces from the region, the world’s preoccupation with Gaza and Iraq’s shifting stance towards the Kurds. After high-level talks between Iraqi and Turkish officials, Iraq announced the designation of the PKK as a banned organisation, a move that will likely invite more Turkish influence to the region. The Kurdish National Congress (KNK) has stated that President Erdogan is seeking to gain strategic and economically important territory after electoral setbacks, warning that such a policy could provoke a regional conflict.

European Union member states have agreed to end their military training mission to Mali after the mandate expires on 18 May. The EU cited the “evolving political and security situation”. The European bloc is likely unwilling to support a junta government that has stifled democracy and pivoted towards Russia. Jihadist groups may seek to exploit a lesser-trained military, but it is likely that the provision of military training will be undertaken by the Kremlin’s Africa Corps.

Overnight on 10 May, more than 100 people were kidnapped by gunmen during night raids in three villages, Gora, Madomawa, and Jambuzu, in Nigeria’s northwest Zamfara state. Kidnappings are a growing issue in Zamfara state with criminals almost certainly conducting them for ransom payments and those responsible have already demanded negotiations. Kidnappers are likely targeting remote villages and exploiting an overstretched security service in northern Nigeria that is having to contend with a host of Islamist groups. Security forces’ efforts to rescue the abducted may result in road closures and potentially armed clashes in the region.

On 10 May, an Italian vessel operating as part of the EU’s anti-piracy mission ATALANTA detained six Somalis suspected of having attempted to hijack an oil tanker in the Gulf of Aden. The case likely illustrates the growing threat posed by Somali piracy, which has increased due to the Houthi’s campaign of Red Sea strikes. The ability of Somali pirates to target vessels at increasingly large distances from their coasts is particularly worrying and may further influence the shipping sector in the region.

Environment, Health and Miscellaneous

As the South African electoral campaign nears its end, President Cyril Ramaphosa signed a bill into law that overhauls the country’s healthcare system. Currently, 84 per cent of South Africans access state-provided healthcare facilities, while the remaining 16 per cent can afford private care. The two-tier system contributes to fueling the country’s severe socioeconomic inequalities, which are some of the sharpest in the continent. The reform introduced the National Health Insurance (NHI), a system that provides funds for poorer South Africans to access private care. The opposition has warned that the policy will result in higher taxation and called it a ploy to bolster the ruling party’s chances in an election that is projected to be strongly contested.


China: Xi hosts Putin in Beijing for bilateral summit.

On 16 May, China’s President Xi hosted Russian President Putin and a delegation of key officials and CEOs in Beijing, marking Putin’s second visit to China in the last year and his first state visit since being inaugurated for his fifth term. The two leaders praised their strategic relationship and suggested that it was not “opportunistic”. President Xi called for an urgent resolution to the war in Gaza and was praised by Putin for China’s efforts in attempting to resolve the Ukraine crisis with both leaders suggesting that there needs to be a political resolution to the conflict. The talks also covered Sino-Russian trade, energy and a shared view concerning the decline of the West.

Solace Global Assessment:  For Putin, Xi’s China has been a major economic lifeline since the imposition of hundreds of sanctions from the US and its Western allies and one of the closed-doors meeting talking points was likely how to effectively circumvent these sanctions. Putin’s visit comes as Russia has opened up a new front in Ukraine and is attempting to seize as much territory before the arrival of Washington’s latest USD 61 billion military aid package. Whilst China has not provided conventional arms to Russia, it has supplied a range of “dual-purpose” equipment and crude components. These have included semiconductor chips for precision-guided munitions, jet parts, ball bearings, motorbikes and all-terrain vehicles. These are considered “dual-purpose” as despite their obvious military applications, these systems and components can in theory be used for civilian purposes. Russia would invariably want to go one step further and secure finished military hardware from China to alleviate pressures on its military-industrial base and to get weapons onto the battlefield with reduced timelines. However, it is unlikely that Xi would authorise this as he attempts to balance opportunities with Russia against relations with the West. For China, the war in Ukraine has afforded it improved access to cheaper Russian oil and gas. In 2023, Russia was China’s largest supplier of oil, clearly showing that China knows it has the freedom to ignore US sanctions without facing any major reprisals. Russia has also become a major destination for Chinese imports after the West’s refusal to export to Russia, and Russian debt to China has increased significantly. Furthermore, public opinion in China is largely supportive of Russia or indifferent, with it being widely believed that Russia had to invade Ukraine to counter the expansion of NATO. With Western efforts doing little to deter China, economic opportunities abounding and domestic public sentiment not challenging China’s stance, there is little reason for Beijing to truly work towards ending the conflict. The continuation of the war in Ukraine is likely in Beijing’s interests given the economic opportunities it has exploited and the fact that Western support in Ukraine has put it in a weaker position to support Taiwan.


New Caledonia (France): Violent riots challenge the authority of Paris in Asia-Pacific territory.

Authorities in the French territory of New Caledonia implemented a curfew on 14 May and prohibited public gatherings in the capital Nouméa following violent protests against proposed constitutional changes. During the clashes, businesses, including car dealerships and shops, were damaged. Flights were also cancelled, schools closed, and impositions placed on the sale of alcohol. These measures failed to curb the civil unrest and, on 15 May, French President Macron declared a state of emergency in New Caledonia. Ongoing violent protests have resulted in at least four deaths including that of a gendarme, over 300 injured, hundreds of arrests and damage estimated at several hundred million Euros. Macron also promised to meet the violence with an “unyielding response” with reports indicating that the French military would be deployed to the territory alongside four gendarmerie squadrons.

Solace Global Assessment:  New Caledonia has been deeply divided by proposals to increase the territory’s autonomy from Paris, with many calling for outright independence. However, recent referendums have rejected independence. In the 2018 and 2020 referendums, 56 per cent and 53 per cent of voters decided to remain part of France. During the 2021 referendum, 96 per cent decided to remain with France but only after a boycott by pro-independence groups. These developments have likely galvanised the indigenous Kanak people who broadly support independence and comprise an estimated 40 per cent of the territory’s 300,000 people, as well as some smaller ethnic groups. The current violence has almost certainly been triggered by lawmakers in Paris who recently made changes to voting rolls that indigenous people have claimed will dilute their political influence. Moreover, as the protests have been triggered by decisions made by France’s central government, they may result in a “domino effect” causing protests to spark in France’s other overseas territories. France’s measures to curtail the protests, such as the imposition of a curfew, banning of social media apps and the deployment of military and police units from the mainland, will likely be interpreted as a colonial power exercising its illegitimate authority over an indigenous people and are likely to antagonise the rioters and ultimately strengthen the independence movement. Local populations have also likely been provoked by the 1998 Nouméa Accord which promised to grant the territory more independence but also confirmed its existence as part of France, leading to 40,000 French people moving to the relatively small territory and further diluting indigenous influence. For Paris, New Caledonia holds strategic importance, and its loss would decrease French military and political influence in the Asia Pacific at a time when France is attempting to increase it. The island territory lies between Australia and Fiji, is host to a French air and naval base and has a large Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), contributing to France’s global power projection capabilities. France has maintained this network more successfully than other colonial powers by recognising them as part of France. However, the possible loss of New Caledonia could trigger a chain reaction of independence movements that would significantly decrease France’s international standing, suggesting that France will likely allocate substantial resources to quell the New Caledonian protests which may lead to more energised riots and deaths in the short term.


Politics, Economics and Civil Unrest

In Thailand, a 28-year-old monarchy reform activist charged with insulting the monarchy died on 14 May of cardiac arrest following a hunger strike. The activist had demanded a reform of Thailand’s lese majeste law which can lead to sentences of up to 15 years for insulting the monarchy. Her death may lead to student-led democracy protests like the ones which erupted in 2020. Thailand’s recent shock decision to re-criminalise cannabis just two years after it was legalised is also likely to lead to street protests, with some minor street protests being staged on 16 May.

Security, Armed Conflict and Terror

Officials in Pakistan have stated their intent to speed up the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the most high-profile symbol of cooperation between the two countries. The call for urgency has been driven by a surge in attacks on Chinese nationals in the country, largely attributed to the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and other ethnic Baloch and Sindhi insurgent groups that strongly oppose the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). These groups argue that the CPEC disproportionately benefits other areas of Pakistan and will likely aim to intensify their attacks if the CPEC is accelerated.

China and Cambodia started their annual military exercise “Golden Dragon 2024” on 16 May. The 15-day exercise will include over 1300 personnel and 11 Cambodian vessels combined with almost 800 Chinese troops and three warships from the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). The exercise is almost certainly symbolic of developing military cooperation between the two countries and will further provoke fears over the establishment of a PLAN base on the Cambodian coast that will enable it to sustain more operations in the disputed South China Sea and further afield.

Environment, Health and Miscellaneous

At least 300 people have been killed after flash flooding hit the north of Afghanistan. The floods also caused widespread economic disruptions, bringing to a halt the agriculture-based economy of the Baghlan, Takhar, and Badakhshan provinces. The Taliban government has increasingly had difficulties responding to the extreme weather events affecting the country, which are exacerbated by the combination of Afghanistan’s rough and mountainous terrain and its extremely poor infrastructure. Terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan, firstly the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), may seek to intensify attacks on authorities in an effort to enhance the disruptions currently faced by Kabul to undermine the Taliban’s rule.

Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has warned that three heatwaves are set to hit several of the country’s major cities during late May and early June. The first heatwave is expected in cities including Umarkot, Tharparkar, and Bahawalpur, with temperatures reaching up to 40°C. A second heatwave, lasting four to five days, may occur later in May or early June, with temperatures rising to 45°C. The third heatwave is predicted for the first 10 days of June, affecting several cities in Sindh and Punjab. Additionally, the Punjab Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) cautions of increased temperatures and heavy rains in South Punjab from May 10 to 11, posing threats to crops.

In Mumbai, India, 14 people were killed and dozens more injured after a large billboard collapsed on a local gas station during a particularly intense storm on 13 May. At least 15 planes were diverted from the area due to the phenomenon’s severity. More extreme weather events remain a realistic possibility, as the North Indian Ocean cyclone season, which affects weather in much of the Indian subcontinent, enters its peak between May and November.

On 11 May monsoon rains and a major mudslide from a cold lava flow or lahar on Mount Marapi caused a river to breach its banks and tear through mountainside villages in four districts in Indonesia’s West Sumatra province. The floods have killed at least 40 people and damaged hundreds of homes, with relief efforts disrupted by damaged or blocked roads. With Mount Marapi being active since January, it is likely that further eruptions and heavy rain will lead to more landslides in the area.