5 Stories to Watch in 2015

In Business and Currency, Life by Continental StaffLeave a Comment

2015 began in dramatic fashion. Fears over the Eurozone, terrorist attacks in France and falling oil prices have all made headlines this past month.

Last year few would have predicted that Ebola would ravage West Africa, ISIS’s brutal rise or Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. 2015 could prove to be an equally unpredictable year.

Here are our top 5 stories to watch in 2015:

1.  Will Russia Implode or Explode?

Considered by some to be a sleeping bear, Russia awoke last year to audaciously annex Crimea and fund a proxy war in Ukraine. Fighting still continues in Eastern Ukraine despite numerous ceasefire arrangements. Meanwhile the Russian and Ukrainian governments have both been unwilling to cool their fiery rhetoric.

But Russia has many more problems to face. The country has been dealt a double blow. First Russia was slapped with harsh sanctions by the west in response to their actions in Ukraine. Now the ruble is in freefall. Worse still, the falling price of oil has begun to erode Russia’s most crucial industry. Russia has relied upon it’s oil and natural gas for revenue and as a crucial geopolitical weapon. How Russian society and Russian government cope with a struggling economy will be interesting to say the least.

Rumours have also swirled about more potential Russian interference in Azerbaijan and Armenia. The two countries have been locked in a simmering conflict for decades and Russia is thought to be eager to exploit the situation by flexing its muscles.

So the question going into 2015 is: will Russia’s economy collapse and bring the rest of the country down with it, or will Putin defy the West again and explode outwards to reclaim more of the former USSR.

2.  Will the Eurozone stay together?

When the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis erupted in 2009 in the wake of the Great Recession, a new lexicon entered our vocabulary. “Grexit” became a silly sounding phrase with very serious consequences – Greek exit from the Eurozone. At night instead of counting sheep, investors were fretting over “PIIGS”: Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain. The PIIGS had massive amounts of debt and threatened the entire European economy.

Ultimately Greece remained in the Eurozone thanks to a largely German funded bailout and harsh austerity measures. The rest of the PIIGS also trimmed some fat – at great social and political cost – but remain in trouble. Now the Eurozone recovery seems to be stalling and terms like PIIGS and Grexit are returning. If the Eurozone doesn’t get back on track the entire economic community could be threatened. To make matters worse nationalism seems to be on the rise across Europe. Far right parties have been making political inroads most significantly in France, England, Greece and the Netherlands. Add economic uncertainty to increasing nationalism and Europe may be on the brink of political and economic turmoil.

Will the Eurozone weather the latest storm? Will the euro stabilise or sink? The fallout from economic trouble in the Eurozone could deal a serious blow to more than just currency traders.

3.  Syria’s Global Civil War

Syria’s civil war has caused an untold amount of suffering and created one of the largest refugee crisis since WWII. President Assad – Syria’s brutal dictator – has been able to cling to power, the Kurds have carved out a chunk of territory, the Free Syrian Army (and other moderate rebel groups) have struggled and the seemingly unstoppable advance of ISIS has been halted thanks to western intervention. At this point the question of who will win seems less important than the pressing humanitarian crisis. Over 6.5 million people are displaced inside Syria and over 3 million have escaped into neighbouring countries.

In addition to the plight of the Syrian people the conflict has already poured over into neighbouring Iraq while Turkey’s very conservative government is fearful of the increasing strength and autonomy of the Kurds. There are also thousands of western Jihadists fighting for ISIS. They are gaining training and experience that could be used to wreak death and terror in the west in attacks similar to those in France this month.

No outcome is certain in Syria. What is certain is that the effects of the Syrian Civil War will affect the entire region and the globe. The humanitarian crisis is already taking a heavy toll on neighbouring countries like Jordan and Lebanon which have been flooded with refugees. Jihadists have begun returning to Europe and North America with training and experience and ISIS leaders have called for attacks on the West.

Refugees will continue to pour out of Syria as foreign fighter pour in. Syria’s civil war could have very serious global implications in 2015.

4.  Will Nigeria ignite in 2015?

While the world’s attention has largely been fixed on Syria and the recent tragedies in France, a long running conflict between Boko Haram (literally translated as books are banned or Western education is banned) and the Nigerian government has been growing. In addition to the dramatic kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls, Boko Haram has recently been responsible for massive bombings and attacks that have left thousands dead and over a million people displaced. The Nigerian army has been unable to effectively combat Boko Haram and has ceded large swaths of territory to the group. Despite this, President Jonathan has been reluctant to ask for international assistance in the fight.

Meanwhile the West African country’s economy has been hit hard with record high interest rates and a quickly devaluing currency (the naira). Nigeria has also suffered from dropping oil prices, although not to the same extent as Russia. All this in addition to an election next month. President Goodluck Jonathan will seek another term in office but his PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) faces a strong challenge from the  APC (All Progressive Congress) led by Muhammadu Buhari who hails from the Muslim north of the country. Jonathan has been heavily criticised for his inability to stop Boko Haram while Buhari led a military coup in 1983 to seize power for himself from a democratically elected government.

Will Goodluck Jonathan retain his Presidency? Will Nigeria finally ask for international assistance against Boko Haram? How will the country react to falling oil prices? Nigeria is a veritable tinderbox – will it ignite in 2015?

5.  The United States

Closer to home there are many good reasons to keep a close eye on the United States. President Obama has already hinted that he will seek to make some serious changes despite the Democrats being soundly beaten in the 2014 midterms this past November. Obama is quoted as saying that “interesting things happen in the 4th quarter” referring to the two remaining years of his second and final term in office. Obama has already opened relations with Cuba for the first time in half a century.

Some have criticized Obama’s response to the Russian annexation of Crimea and the Syrian civil war as weak, but he has been decisive on other issues. He led the ousting of Gadhafi from Libya, pulled US troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, waged a controversial drone strike campaign,

The US economic recovery has been much stronger than that of Europe but a sputtering Eurozone threatens to derail it. The Fracking revolution has helped the US become the most energy independent it has been in 30 years and has created thousands of jobs but the falling price of Oil could decimate the domestic energy sector in the US. For now the US dollar remains strong. If the US economy does backslide in its recovery then it would have a profound negative effect on the rest of the world.

All in all the US will, yet again, be one of the most important countries to watch in 2015.

Predicting the Future

Russia, Europe, Syria, Nigeria and US will likely play host to some of the most dramatic stories of 2015. The only thing we can be certain of however, is that 2015 will be as unpredictable as 2014. Follow the Current for all the latest stories in 2015 and beyond.

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