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US expects January talks with Russia over Ukraine, Europe security

The United States said Tuesday it expects talks with Russia over Ukraine tensions and European security more broadly to start in January, while warning Moscow some of its proposals are “unacceptable.”

The US administration has already said it is ready to hold direct talks with Moscow, and also through the NATO-Russia Council and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

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“There will be no talks on European security without Europe,” Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Karen Donfried told reporters.

“We have been clear we will do this with” the NATO Western defensive alliance of 30 states, she added, while Russian President Vladimir Putin has indicated a preference for one-to-one talks with the United States.

“On the bilateral engagement, we will decide on a date together with Russia and we believe that that will take place in January,” said the diplomat.

She added the Washington-led transatlantic alliance would soon invite Moscow to a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council — a consultation forum created in 2002 — a proposal rejected so far by the Russians.

“My sense is that we will be seeing movement in these channels in the month of January,” Donfried said.

The United States has been sounding the alarm since mid-November that Moscow could be planning a large-scale attack on its ex-Soviet neighbor Ukraine and has warned Putin of unprecedented sanctions.

Western governments have accused Moscow of amassing some 100,000 troops near its border with eastern Ukraine, where Kiev has been fighting pro-Russia separatists since 2014.

When asked whether sanctions could include the radical option of cutting Russia off from the Swift international payment network, an essential cog in the wheel of global finance, the US official said nothing was off the table.

Russia denies plotting an invasion and has demanded legal guarantees over its security from the United States and NATO, demanding the alliance stop an eastward expansion.

Last week Moscow presented demands to Washington and NATO, saying the alliance must not admit new members or establish military bases in ex-Soviet countries.

“There are some things that we’re prepared to work on,” Donfried said.

But, she added, “there are other things in those documents that the Russians know will be unacceptable.”

She said she had no new information of whether Moscow was continuing to build up its troops on the Ukrainian border but called on Russia to “de-escalate.”

“We continue to be deeply concerned about the Russian military presence on Ukraine’s borders.”

On Monday, US State Department Spokesman Ned Price said Washington had not “seen anything that would allay our concerns.”

Donfried also confirmed the United States continues to provide “defensive military systems” to Kiev, noting there was a delivery in the past week.

“Should Russia further invade Ukraine, we will provide additional defensive material to the Ukrainians above and beyond that which we are already in the process of providing,” she said.

Read more: Still too early to assess West’s reaction to security demands from NATO, says Kremlin

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US: Bodies of two of three missing kids found in Minnesota lake

The bodies of two young children have been recovered from a Minnesota lake, and searchers are still looking for a third they fear may have been intentionally drowned.

Meanwhile, the father of the children died at a different location hours earlier, and their mother is missing. Names have not been released.

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The chain of events began Friday morning when the father was found dead at a mobile home park in the town of Maplewood, near Minneapolis. Police determined that the woman had left with the children, and a search began.

Maplewood Police Lt. Joe Steiner said the woman’s car was found near Vadnais Lake around 4 p.m. Friday. The shoes of the children were found on the shore.

A search of the lake found one child’s body Friday evening. A second body was found overnight. Searchers from several organizations were busy Saturday looking for the third, as well as the mother.

Authorities believe all three children were under the age of 5.

“There’s nothing more tragic than the loss of young children,” Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said at a news conference on Friday. He called the deaths a “likely triple homicide.”

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Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season

Several dozen Romanian and Bulgarian firefighters took up their posts in Greece on Saturday, the first members of a European force being deployed to the country to provide backup in case of major wildfires during the summer.

More than 200 firefighters and equipment from Bulgaria, France, Germany, Romania, Norway and Finland will be on standby during the hottest months of July and August in Greece, where a spate of wildfires caused devastation last summer.

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A group of 28 Romanian firefighters with eight vehicles, and 16 firefighters from Bulgaria with four vehicles, were the first to arrive for the two-month mission, financed and coordinated under the European Union’s civil protection mechanism.

“We thank you very much for coming to help us during a difficult summer for our country, and for proving that European solidarity is not just theoretical, it’s real,” Greek Civil Protection Minister Christos Stylianides said on Saturday as he welcomed the members of the Romanian mission in Athens.

“When things get tough, you will be side by side with our Greek firefighters so we can save lives and property.”

The Bulgarian firefighters have been stationed in Larissa, in central Greece.

Last summer’s wildfires ravaged about 300,000 acres (121,000 hectares) of forest and bushland in different parts of Greece as the country experienced its worst heatwave in 30 years.

Following sharp criticism of its response to the fires, the Greek government set up a new civil protection ministry and promised to boost firefighting capacities.

In Greece’s worst wildfire disaster, 102 people were killed when a blaze tore through the seaside town of Mati and nearby areas close to Athens during the summer of 2018.

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One killed, six injured in shootout between migrant groups in Serbia

One migrant was killed and at least six others, including a teenage girl, were injured Saturday in a shootout between migrant groups in Serbia near the Hungarian border, the state-run RTS television reported.

The 16-year-old girl sustained life threatening injuries in the incident that occurred in a forest in the outskirts of Subotica, some 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Belgrade, where the injured were hospitalized, RTS reported.

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Police, who made no immediate comment, blocked access to the forest where the incident took place, only around a kilometer from the Hungarian border.

Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin rushed to the scene.

The injured, aged between 20 and 30, have no documents, Subotica mayor Stevan Bakic told local media.

It is not known what triggered the incident, he added.

Local media reported that the shootout occurred between Afghan and Pakistani migrants most likely over human trafficking from the area to European Union member Hungary.

Serbia lies on the so-called Balkans route used by migrants heading towards Western Europe as they flee war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Although the route is nowhere as busy as it was during Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015, tens of thousands of illegal migrants still cross the region annually.

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