A world of thrills and chills for 2015

Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter @FridaGhitis. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)A year ago, who would have believed that a brutal militia would take over parts of Syria and Iraq, forcing the U.S. to re-enter the Middle East fray? Who would have predicted that Russia would conquer and annex Crimea, a legally recognized part of Ukraine, or that a deadly virus would spread panic in the U.S. and devastation in parts of Africa.

Here's one prediction we can make with 100% certainty: 2015 will bring big surprises. Last year had plenty, to be sure, many of them most unwelcome, some foreshadowing the major dramas that will unfurl in the coming months:
1) A big fright for Hillary Clinton. Al Gore used to joke that he "used to be the next president of the United States." Similarly, Hillary Clinton has now held the title of 2016 frontrunner for so long that she and the Democratic party seem dangerously unprepared for the emergence of a credible challenger within the party. It is quite conceivable that a Democratic primary candidate will step forward and capture the public imagination.
After years in the public eye, Clinton faces an almost impossible task if she wants to sound fresh and new. That creates an opening to a potential rival. A charismatic, innovative Democrat could inspire excitement among young voters. That would jolt Hillary and her closest supporters, and sow panic within the Democratic establishment, which has thrown its support behind her, and remains almost comically on edge over the expected announcement of her candidacy. After all, notwithstanding the risks, she remains the most likely next president of the U.S.
    2) Democracy (what's left of it) dies in Russia. For all his authoritarianism, Russian President Vladimir Putin is, in fact, an elected leader in a (very flawed) democracy. This is likely to become the year Russian democracy breathes its last under Putin. The collapse in oil prices has already started cracking the foundation of Russian prosperity. Economic decline -- a recession -- will chew like a termite infestation into what has been strong support for the President.
    Lower living standards will unleash a self-reinforcing reaction of unrest and repression as Putin tries to hold on to power, blaming outside forces and accusing his critics of being foreign agents or common criminals. The opposition will feel besieged but invigorated. The thin veneer separating democratic autocracy from dictatorship will also crack.
    3) Venezuela revolution teeters, and Latin America's centrists grab the rudder, strengthen ties with U.S.: There is just one reason for Venezuela's Chavistas to be grateful: At least their idolized leader, the late Hugo Chavez, is not here to watch the undignified crumbling of his revolution. Venezuela, possibly the world's worst-managed economy, was already unraveling even before its sustaining oxygen, oil export earnings, were slashed in half. Chavez's successor, President Nicolas Maduro has, unsurprisingly, blamed the U.S. for his woes. But his oil-dependent economy did not stand a chance.
    Venezuela launched a socialist revolution in Latin America, but the model has turned out to be a failure. Instead of following his lead, centrist and center-left governments, aiming to mix market-based prosperity and aggressive social reforms, have moved to the forefront. And now, with relations between the U.S. and Cuba taking a new turn, Latin America and the U.S. stand to strengthen their ties.
    4) ISIS pushes Muslims closer to the West. It is a distressing and dangerous fact that the rise of the so-called Islamist State has drawn many Muslims from around the world. But there is another side effect, one that will bring no joy to ISIS leaders. While the ultra-radical ideology and tactics of the militant group have radicalized views in some segments, they have also alarmed many among the majority of Muslims who are nothing but repulsed by its brutal tactics and extreme objectives.
    ISIS would no doubt like to see its vision of a pan-Islamic caliphate embraced by Muslims around the world. Instead, the images of beheadings, its arguments in favor of women's slavery and of a return to seventh-century customs will lead many Muslims, especially young ones, to identify more with modernity and to defend their personal freedom. Paradoxically, ISIS brings Muslims and the West closer together.
    5) India rises, at last. For decades, India, the world's largest democracy, has despaired of watching its neighbors in China enjoy the fruits of prosperity. The world's only two countries with populations exceeding a billion souls have held an unspoken competition. While China's centralized economy has grown at a dizzying pace, India's has lagged, mired in corruption and ideologically stalled. That is about to change.
    Ironically, it was communist-ruled China that proved more adept at market economics while India kept protectionist policies and remained leery of foreign investors. But now a new government is welcoming, even courting foreign investors -- including the ones from China -- and discarding the country's vaunted nonaligned foreign policy, even inviting Barack Obama as "chief guest," for Indian Republic Day in January, the first time an American president is granted that honor.
    It will be a fitting launch to the year, laying the ground for a happy surprise in 2015, a year during which we hope the positive surprises will outweigh the negatives. The signs are encouraging.