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Russia, Turkey and Iran Sign Deal on Safe Zones in Syria

Russia and Iran which are allies of the Syrian regime as well as the rebel supporter Turkey signed a Russia-backed plan for creating safe zones in Syria. The pact which was signed in the Kazakh capital Astana was meant to halt fighting in the war-torn Syria. However, the Syrian government and rebel delegations were not signatories to the agreement. Russia-backed plan to create safe zones in Syria is targeted at further pacification and cessation of hostilities and a halt in fighting in the zones.

Salient Highlights

As per the plan, the zones were set to remain in place for six months. The time period could eventually be extended. The zones would cover the whole of Idlib province, portions of the Latakia, Aleppo, Hama and Homs provinces, parts of the Deraa and Quneitra provinces, as well as the Ghouta suburb of Damascus.

As per the memorandum, there will be a halt in the usage of all categories of arms among belligerents, including aerial weapons.

The major objective of the memorandum is to halt the violence and facilitate conditions for the safe, voluntary return of refugees as well as to provide rapid and uninterrupted delivery of relief supplies and medical aid.

However, the ways to monitor and police the safe zones are not clearly spelt out. Russia has stated that ways to monitor the zones would be an issue for separate talks.

Background

Russia-backed plan has to be viewed at the backdrop of US President Donald Trump’s call for the establishment of safe zones in Syria.

The Syrian conflict is six years old. It has been estimated that more than 320,000 people have been killed in Syria since the war began with anti-government protests in March 2011.

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India becomes world’s fifth largest military spender

According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri), India has become world’s fifth-largest military spender spending at $55.9 billion in 2016. The US remains the world’s largest military followed by China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. The other prominent spenders in the top 15 include Japan, South Korea, and Australia.

Global trends

Global military spending amounted to 2.2% of the worldwide GDP. Military spending as a share of GDP, was highest in the Middle East and lowest in the Americas. In Asia and Oceania, military expenditure increased by 4.6% in 2016 spurned by many tensions in the region such claims of territorial rights made by various countries in the South China Sea.

The US is the top spender whose military expenditure grew 1.7% between 2015 and 2016 to $611 billion. The growth in US military expenditure suggests the end o the trend of decreases in spending that resulted from the economic crisis and the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and Iraq. Even now the expenditure of US remains 20% lower than its peak in 2010.

China spent $215 billion. Russia spent $69.2 billion making it this editions third largest spender. Saudi Arabia which was the third largest spender in 2015 is ranked at 4th position in 2016 with a spending of $63.7 billion. Pakistan did not figure in the list of top 15 spenders and it spent $9.93 billion.

Military expenditure in Western Europe has increased for the second consecutive year. Falling oil revenue forced many oil-exporting countries to reduce military spending.

SIPRI

SIPRI was established in 1966 as independent international institute dedicated to research into conflict, armaments, arms control and disarmament. The organization provides data, analysis and recommendations to policymakers, researchers, media and the interested public.

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A new freight train connects Russia with China

A freight train connecting Russia with China arrived in Ganzhou an inland city in Jiangxi province, carrying goods from Moscow. The freight train travelled more than 7,000 km, before reaching Ganzhou in eastern China.

Significance for China

Jiangxi province is the former revolutionary heartland of the Communist Party. This freight train connecting Russia and China is expected to bring resources from Europe and boost local development. Ganzhou is an inland area with a complex landscape and was a hot bed of revolutionary activities owing to its remote mountain ranges. However, its complex landscape has become a stumbling block in development. Even though, the Chinese government tried to push regional development in the past few decades, Ganzhou could not fetch any major projects due to its geography, making many people to live in poverty.

Rail freight is cheap and costs only half that of air freight and half the time of sea freight. In order to boost its export revenues, China is already operating train services to several cities in Europe. In January 2017, it inaugurated a new train service to London traversing over 12,000 kilometres across 18 days. China is set to gain heavily from opening the ancient trade routes and strengthen connectivity with Europe. It would also enhance regional cooperation in countries that lie along the Silk Road.

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