Economy forces Russia to cut military spending for first time in 20 years
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- Russia's military spending dropped for the first time in 20 years in 2017, according to a new global report, but other nations boosted their defence budgets
- Turkey's opposition parties are set to form an unprecedented alliance to fight President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in upcoming presidential and parliament elections
- China's high-speed rail network is growing steadily, but the pace of adoption in the rest of the world is crawling by comparison — particularly in North America
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Russia's slimming military
Russian military spending fell by 20 per cent last year, even as European nations hiked their defence budgets for fear of Vladimir Putin's expansionist ambitions.
The cut — the first decrease in Russia's military spending since 1998 — drops the superpower to fourth place on the list of the world's biggest military spenders behind the United States, China and Saudi Arabia.
The 2017 spending data was compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), a Swedish think-tank. SIPRI says the Kremlin has been forced take austerity measures by a combination of Western economic sanctions and lagging global oil prices.
And further cuts are probably in store if Putin is to reach his stated goal of limiting military spending to 3 per cent of GDP — down from the current 4.3 per cent — amid sluggish economic growth.
Overall, the world's nations spent $1.739 trillion US on their militaries in 2017. That works out to $230 for each person on the planet, an increase of 1.1 per cent over the previous year.
China, meanwhile, increased its military budget by 13 per cent to $228 billion in 2017, continuing a two-decade-long upwards trajectory. The country has been building up its presence in the South China Sea region in particular, and launched its first domestically built aircraft carrier in 2017.
Saudi Arabia spent $69.4 billion on defence last year, a 9.2 per cent hike and 10 per cent of its GDP. It has been leading a coalition of African and Middle Eastern nations supporting Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi in that country's civil war.
India, with $63.9 billion, rounds out the global top five military spenders.
NATO's 29 members spent $900 billion on their armies, navies and air forces — or 52 per cent of global military expenditures.
Canada, which devoted $20.6 billion US to defence in 2017 — or 1.3 per cent of GDP — ranked 14th in the world, behind Australia ($27.5 billion) and ahead of Turkey's $17.2 billion.
The SIPRI report does not include data on North Korea's undisclosed military budget, which is estimated to be around $10 billion, or more than 20 per cent of its GDP.
While the 20 per cent decrease in Russian military spending was the most notable drop, it was by no means the biggest:
- South Sudan — also the target of international sanctions — was forced to cut its military spending by 56 per cent to $72 million.
- Chad trimmed 33 per cent off its $210 million defence budget.
- Myanmar managed to spend 28 per cent less — $1.7 billion — while forcing 700,000 Rohingya from their homes with an orchestrated campaign of arson, rapes and murder.
Despite spending less on defence, it was just two months ago that Putin unveiled what he claimed was a new generation of "indestructible" nuclear weapons, including a hypersonic missile and stealth underwater drone.
Perhaps. But if Russia is winning the new Cold War, it is doing it on the cheap, spending about one-ninth what America devotes to flexing its muscles.
Taking on Erdogan
If you can't beat him, join against him.
At least that appears to be the new philosophy of Turkey's opposition parties, who are set to form an unprecedented alliance to fight President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in upcoming presidential and parliament elections.
The broad coalition, which was reported by local media this morning, brings together the secular Republican People's Party (CHP), the Islamist Saadet [Felicity] party (SP), centre-right Democrat Party, and the Iyi [Good] party.
The combined opposition will face off against Erdogan's ruling AKP and their allies, the Nationalist Action party, in the snap June 24 elections that the Turkish president called two weeks ago.
The opposition coalition will run a combined slate for parliament — where the seats are awarded via proportional representation — but each will field their own candidate for president.
Even before a deal was struck, he denounced the prospect of an opposition coalition.
"Those who are against us are working in the dark by winking at each other," the Turkish president said. "They are trying to form an alliance whose only purpose is enmity for Recep Tayyip Erdogan."
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Slow spread of high-speed rail
China has begun testing trains along a new, 343 kilometre high-speed rail corridor near its border with Siberia.
The Harbin to Jiamusi line will be the country's longest ultrafast rail link when it opens in July. It will cut four hours off the travel time between the two remote, northeastern cities.
Work on the railway began in the summer of 2014 and posed numerous challenges, not the least of which involved the bitter winters in the region — temperatures sometimes plummet below -30 Celsius.
A decade ago, China had a single, 113-km-long high-speed line that was purpose-built for the 2008 Beijing Summer Games. Now it has more than 25,000 kilometres of them, and is near its goal of a national "4+4" network — with four north-south and four east-west ultrafast lines.
An additional 13,000 km of high-speed tracks are planned to come into service by 2025.
Europe, by comparison, will have almost 9,000 km by the end of 2018, mostly in Spain, France and Germany.
North America will have ... zero kilometres.
There are efforts afoot to change that.
California has begun construction of a high-speed link spanning 840 km between Los Angeles and San Francisco, scheduled to go into service by 2029. But costs are ballooning from the original $33 billion US price tag, with the total cost now estimated at somewhere between $77 billion and $98 billion. The U.S. government recently commissioned a Department of Transportation audit of the troubled project.
There are also longstanding plans to bring high-speed rail to the Washington-New York-Boston corridor. The trains will be ready in 2021, even if the track isn't.
Agricultural groups and rural municipalities are already registering concerns about the plan, although the government says no decisions have been made about the route or design.
The official announcement last month suggested high-speed service might begin "as early as 2025" — an optimistic timeline, given that it took three years to build a new 23 km conventional rail line linking Pearson Airport and Toronto's downtown.
Maybe the idea is to have the Chinese build it.
Quote of the moment
"Thank you and your delicious wife for your warm welcome, the perfect organization of this trip."
- French President Emmanuel Macron, either getting tongue-tied or playing to stereotype, during a visit with Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull and his wife Lucy.
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Today in history
May 2, 1967: Leafs win Stanley Cup
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