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17 Apr 14. Four-way talks end with agreement on calming Ukraine tensions. International talks between Ukraine, Russia, the US and the EU ended in Geneva on Thursday evening with an unexpected agreement on a series of steps to calm tensions in Ukraine. As foreign ministers from the four parties arrived at Geneva’s Intercontinental Hotel on Thursday morning, diplomats were playing down hopes of substantial progress, given the big differences between the delegations on how to resolve the latest round of conflict in Ukraine’s largely Russian-speaking east. However, after seven hours of negotiations, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, and John Kerry and Andrii Deschytsia, his US and Ukrainian counterparts, said a statement had been agreed calling for the disbanding of armed groups, the vacation of occupied streets and buildings, and an amnesty for people detained during the unrest. In addition, Ukraine will embark on a process of constitutional reform designed to foster regional autonomy, local self-government and the protection of minority rights, a process which both Mr Kerry and Mr Lavrov stressed must be “inclusive, transparent, and accountable”. “The Geneva meeting on the situation in Ukraine agreed on initial concrete steps to de-escalate tensions and restore security for all citizens,” the joint statement said. “All sides must refrain from any violence, intimidation or provocative actions.” (Source: FT.com)

17 Apr 14. The respected Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) released its latest figures on international defence spending on Monday, 14 April. SIPRI found that global military spending totalled US$1.7trn (€1.23trn) in 2013, a decrease of nearly 2 percent from the previous year. However, this decrease by no means indicates a broader trend of countries across the globe cutting back on military spending, according to SIPRI. SIPRI is an independent international institute dedicated to research into conflict, armaments, arms control and disarmament funded by the Swedish government. According to SIPRI’s latest report, the major cause of the 2 percent drop stemmed from changes to the United States’ military budget, the top spender in the world. Washington-approved budget cuts led to a 7.8 percent drop year-on-year, down to US$640bn. The withdrawal from Iraq and the winding down of operations in Afghanistan also contributed to the decrease in spending. Meanwhile, China, Russia and Saudi Arabia sharply increased their spending between 2012 and 2013. Beijing invested 7.4 percent more in its armed forces, bringing its total budget to US$188bn. Saudi Arabia rose from seventh to fourth in the world. In 2013, its military expenditures totaled US$67bn, an increase of 14 percent from the previous year. The report based its figures on the purchase of arms and equipment, as well as the cost of salaries and military operations. The largest stockpile of arms belongs to India, which remains by far the biggest buyer of arms in the world, importing nearly three times as many weapons as its nearest rivals China and Pakistan over the last five years. According to SIPRI, the United States remained at the top of the arms sellers’ table for 2009-2013, accounting for 29 percent of global exports, followed closely by Russia at 20 percent. Germany retained third place as the largest exporter of submarines, SIPRI said. German exports to Africa rose 53 percent, and Algeria, Morocco and Sudan were the biggest buyers. The SIPRI report also noted stark growth in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Middle East as the West spent less. Africa – led by oil-and-gas-rich nations Algeria and Angola – spent more than any region in 2013 with a total increase of 8.3 percent year-on-year. Meanwhile in Asia, China’s bolstering of its military, combined with territorial disputes with neighbouring countries, prompted Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam to also spend more. Africa is the only continent whose military budg

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