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Ukraine intelligence shows no proof of Russian troop withdrawal: Minister

The latest Ukrainian intelligence report compiled on Wednesday shows no evidence of Russia pulling back its forces from near Ukraine's borders, Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov told Reuters in an interview.

Ukraine will only believe Russia is serious about defusing the current crisis if it withdraws its troops, military hardware and weapons, including forces deployed in Belarus for drills that are due to end on Feb. 20, he said.

According to the Ukrainian military, about 140,000 combined Russian military and pro-Russian separatist forces are currently massed near Ukraine, including 125,000 ground troops. There are 9,000 Russian troops in Belarus alone, he said.

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By way of comparison, Reznikov said Ukraine has around 35,000 troops in its eastern Donbass region, where Kyiv has been battling a Russian-backed separatist insurgency since 2014.


His comments underscored the scepticism in Ukraine and among its Western supporters about Russia's assertion that it is pulling back troops after exercises near Ukraine. The West fears they could be used to launch a military assault on Ukraine, something Moscow has repeatedly denied.

The Russian defence ministry has also published footage that it said showed tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and self-propelled artillery units leaving the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014.

“Unfortunately, we cannot confirm this information by objective indicators. This is not confirmed either by Ukrainian intelligence data or by the data of the intelligence communities of our strategic partners,” Reznikov said.

Even if Russian troops moved away from one location, Reznikov said that would likely only be a “migration” to another area near Ukraine, and not a genuine pullback.

“All the troops that they brought up… must return to their permanent deployment points. Then it will be clear that they have cancelled their aggressive plans,” he said.

“Withdrawal of people is not enough – weapons and equipment must also leave,” Reznikov added.

Ukraine's defence ministry has been hit by what the government described as the largest denial of service attack in the country's history this week. The government suspects Russia could be behind the attack. Moscow has denied any involvement.

Reznikov said the hack had not damaged the defence ministry's web portal and did not affect Ukraine's closed command and control systems. He said the ministry wanted to set up special cyber units to deal with such attacks in future.

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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

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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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