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Russia still building forces on Ukraine border, Nato and US say

Russia is continuing to send troops to what is now the biggest concentration of forces in Europe since the cold war, contradicting Moscow’s claims of a drawdown on Ukraine’s border, Nato’s secretary general has said.

Hours later a senior United States official told reporters that Russia’s claims of withdrawal of some troops were “false” and that Moscow had “increased its troop presence along the Ukrainian border by as many as 7,000 troops”, many of them arriving in the past 24 hours.

“Every indication we have now is they mean only to publicly offer to talk and make claims about de-escalation while privately mobilising for war,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

Despite suggestions from Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, that a “partial” withdrawal was in effect, head of Nato Jens Stoltenberg said Russian military capability was only increasing in number and strength.

In a warning shot to the Kremlin, Mr Stoltenberg announced that the military alliance was considering deploying further battle groups in eastern and central Europe.

They would complement those established in 2014 in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, led by the UK, Canada, Germany and the US. The French government has offered to lead a force in Romania.

“We will have advice from the military commanders within weeks and we will make a decision after that,” Mr Stoltenberg said during a break in talks between Nato defence ministers in Brussels. “What we see today is that Russia maintains a massive invasion force ready to attack with high-end capabilities from Crimea to Belarus. This is the biggest concentration of forces in Europe since the Cold War.”

The British defence secretary, Ben Wallace, said the UK was doubling the number of personnel in Estonia and sending additional equipment, including tanks and armoured fighting vehicles. Four additional UK Typhoon jets landed in Cyprus on Wednesday in order to patrol the skies of eastern Europe.

In reference to a series of cyber-attacks that have knocked the websites of the Ukrainian army, the defence ministry and major banks offline, Mr Stoltenberg told reporters: “What we see is that Russian troops are moving into position and we saw the cyber-attack. And these are the kinds of actions and measures that we expect will come in advance of bigger military intervention into Ukraine. ”

The potential deployment of further battlegroups risks antagonising Mr Putin but the alliance is seeking to emphasise to Russia that its aggression will only lead to a larger Nato presence to its west.

Mr Stoltenberg said Nato was “prepared for the worst” while holding out hope that the signalling from Mr Putin in recent days was evidence of a sincere desire to find a diplomatic way through the crisis.

He said: “So far we have not seen any de-escalation on the ground. On the contrary, it appears that Russia continues the military build-up.

“What we see is that they have increased the number of troops and more troops are on their way and so, so far, no de-escalation.”

Mr Stoltenberg said the evidence on the ground “contradicts the message of real diplomatic efforts”, and warned that Russia’s attempted leveraging of military force to force countries to acquiesce to its demands should be seen as the “new normal”.

‘False-flag’ operations

US officials repeated warnings of “false-flag” operations such as fabricated attacks, designed to provide a pretext for a Russian invasion.

“We continue to receive indications that they could launch a false pretext at any moment to justify an invasion of Ukraine,” a senior official said. “That false pretext could take a number of different forms: a provocation in the Donbas; a claim about Nato activity by land, at sea or in the air; an incursion into Russian territory.”

The official pointed to fabricated stories in the Russian media in the past few days, such as a report of an unmarked grave of civilians supposedly slaughtered by Ukrainian troops, or claims that the US and Ukraine are developing biological or chemical weapons.

“Each of these allegations is categorically false, and we should expect more false reports from Russian state media over the coming days,” the official said.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken echoed Mr Stoltenberg’s analysis, as the White House backed a formal demand at the OSCE’s Forum for Security Co-operation from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia for Belarus to provide firm details within 48 hours of the scale of the Russian military force on its territory.

“Unfortunately there’s a difference between what Russia says and what it does, and what we’re seeing is no meaningful pullback,” Mr Blinken said. “On the contrary, we continue to see forces, especially forces that would be in the vanguard of any renewed aggression against Ukraine, continuing to be at the border, to mass at the border.”

In a rare public statement, the UK defence intelligence chief, Jim Hockenhull, added that he had “not seen evidence” of a drawdown in Russian troops.

“Russia has the military mass in place to conduct an invasion of Ukraine,” said Mr Hockenhull.

‘Partial withdrawal’

During a press conference with the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, in Moscow on Tuesday, Mr Putin had told reporters that he was undertaking “a partial withdrawal of troops from the areas of our exercises”.

On Wednesday, the Russian defence ministry released footage on its Zvezda television channel reportedly showing tanks, armoured personnel carriers and mobile artillery elements of the 42nd motorised rifle division crossing the Crimean Bridge and heading away from the peninsular.

Izvestia, a Russian newspaper with sources in the defence ministry, reported that the units returning to their bases were the 3rd, 42nd and 150th motorised rifle divisions.

Analysts noted, however, that two of the three of those divisions were stationed very close to Ukraine.

The 3rd motorised rifle division has permanent bases to the northeast of Ukraine while the 150th motorised rifle division is garrisoned near Rostov-on-Don, just to Ukraine’s southeast. Just the 42nd motorised rifle division would be taking a longer trip back to Chechnya, if the units return to their permanent bases.

Russia’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, dismissed the claims of reinforcements. She said: “Frankly, I can tell you the truth. We’re not interested in these statements made by Stoltenberg, who is either Nato secretary general or a banker, I haven’t figured out which yet. We’re no longer interested in them. He is not a person whose statements Moscow would consider serious arguments. He is a Nato has-been now.”

Mr Stoltenberg is to leave Nato at the end of September, becoming chief of the Norwegian central bank in December.

Russian troops

The US president, Joe Biden, said in an address on Tuesday that he believed that more than 150,000 Russian troops remained near Ukraine’s borders, more than 60 per cent of the country’s ground forces.

Mr Stoltenberg would not give a definitive number with regard to the size of the Russian presence on Wednesday, noting that the Kremlin pulled troops back and forth over time.

“We are seeing that it goes up and up and up – and it continues to increase,” he said. “Of course, what we’ve seen several times over the last months is that they move in with a high number of troops and heavy equipment. Then they take most of the troops out again but the equipment stays. Then they can very easily, very quickly, send the personnel back again and they are operating up with all the capabilities in place.”

He added: “It is not too late for Russia to step back from the brink of conflict and choose the path of peace. Nato has sent concrete written proposals to Russia on transparency, risk reduction and arms control. We have yet to receive a response. I reiterate my invitation to Russia to meet again in the Nato-Russia Council.”

In Strasbourg, the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said the European Union was ready for the fallout of conflict, including a reduction in gas supply, as alternatives had been negotiated and that Europe was “now on the safe side of winter”. – Guardian

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Do water features like a pool, pond or fountains add value to a home?

He may be used to making a splash in politics. But now it seems that Boris Johnson will be able to do that closer to home, too.

This week, it was revealed that the former prime minister has been given permission to build a swimming pool in the garden of his £3.78 million Oxfordshire country home. 

A move which will doubtless provide a restful place to unwind, exercise and relax as he navigates post-political life.

Deep pockets: A country home with outdoor swimming pool

Deep pockets: A country home with outdoor swimming pool 

But even if you don’t have deep pockets for such deep-water projects, it’s still possible to create the tranquil benefits of waterside living. 

Whether it’s through installing a hot tub, pond, or even decorative fountains. 

But, as our experts point out, it’s important to weigh up the pros and cons before splashing out…

Frequent attention

Introducing any kind of water feature to your garden requires some upkeep.

During the spring and summer, you’ll need to top up your water feature regularly to replenish water loss caused by evaporation. 

And there’s also the task of removing branches and leaves as well as pruning bushes nearby.

‘It’s also a good idea to give your water feature a thorough clean and add a wildlife-friendly algaecide or UV steriliser after cleaning,’ says Will Haxby, home and garden sales director at Haddonstone, which specialises in stonework ‘as this will prevent algae growth build-up caused by the warm conditions.’ 

When the temperatures drop, drain off water before the winter to protect your feature from frost. 

You’ll also need to clean the pump to remove any limescale build-up.

Will it add value?

Installing features like fountains can add to the kerb appeal of your home, says Tabitha Cumming, a property expert at The Lease Extension Company, says: ‘This means that it will make a better first impression and potentially add value to your home.’

Amer Siddiq, founder and CEO at Landlord Vision, believes that water features such as fountains can have other benefits, too.

‘They can help mask unwanted noises from roads or neighbours. They can also attract birds and wildlife, adding a touch of nature to your surroundings.’

Andrew Landers, director at Property Rescue, a home-buying service, says: ‘The post-covid world has seen the importance of outside space massively increase, and any enhancements that make this space more enjoyable is going to have a positive impact on the value of a home.’

Hidden costs

Factor additional costs into your budget, too, since water features rarely boil down to a single, one-off payment.

‘For example if any of your water features have fish, these can incur additional costs from the food and care that they will require, and you will also need to be vigilant to keep them safe from predators,’ says Cumming. 

Some features can cause structural issues, too. 

‘Fountains may become damaged through wear and tear or have cracks caused by water freezing over,’ she adds.

Beware risks

In summer, having a water feature will make you a magnet for friends and family who want to pop around and cool down. 

All of which, says Anna Giles, an associate at law firm Wedlake Bell, could increase scope for accidents

‘Homeowners should bear in mind that they could be subject to a claim for compensation if someone injures themselves at their property, so reasonable care needs to be taken to ensure that visitors and/or occupiers of the property will be safe.’

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Furious landlord hits out at family from HELL after forking out THOUSANDS to fix property: ‘I gave them charity and they treated my home like a doss house’

A landlord who rented out his 3-bedroom County Durham terraced house to a family on housing benefits has been saddled with thousands of pounds in repair damage after the tenants moved out leaving the property looking ‘like a s*******’.

University lecturer Paul Rostron, 57, from Swindon, rents out three small properties in County Durham to contribute to his children’s university fees and had previously been blessed with good, responsible tenants. 

Unfortunately Paul has now been saddled with thousands of pounds worth of repairs and cleaning after his old tenants treated his house like a ‘doss house’ and left  behind mountains of rotting furniture and rubbish. 

In shocking pictures, Paul’s cosy terraced family home is beyond recognisable replaced by layers of dirt, grime and filth. 

The carpeted floors are covered in dust and wrappers as well as discarded clothes and cardboard boxes. 

After three years of habitation Paul's tenants left his house looking like a bombsite

After three years of habitation Paul’s tenants left his house looking like a bombsite

The once immaculate garden has been treated like a personal dump for years

Prior to their tenancy, Paul had spent thousands of pounds making the house cosy for his lodgers

Prior to their tenancy, Paul had spent thousands of pounds making the house cosy for his lodgers

A distraught Paul told MailOnline he had been charging his tenants lower than market rate for the property

A distraught Paul told MailOnline he had been charging his tenants lower than market rate for the property

Speaking to the MailOnline a distraught Paul revealed he was shocked at how little care the tenants had paid to his property in the three years they’d lived there. 

Sharing pictures of the property before the tenancy started, the attention to detail that Paul and his team of decorators had done to ensure his tenants are well looked after is obvious. 

This though, he says, wasn’t meant to last. 

He explained: ‘The tenants moved in in 2020, at the start of the pandemic. 

‘They had the house entirely immaculate. The walls were freshly painted and we had new carpets in at the start of their tenancy.

‘They treated it like a doss house – I have no idea what they did there.’

Paul originally bought the property for £34,000 in 2020 but says that due to the area he has had to rent out properties often at cut prices – meaning that he will be making an overall loss with the repairs. 

A carefully manicured children's room was treated like a pigsty and left with broken appliances

A carefully manicured children’s room was treated like a pigsty and left with broken appliances 

Stained mattresses and broken beds were left leaning against the walls of the small room

Stained mattresses and broken beds were left leaning against the walls of the small room

Rotting piles of rubbish were abandoned in the sitting room along with detritus

Rotting piles of rubbish were abandoned in the sitting room along with detritus 

Cardboard boxes, children's toys and rubbish were littered across the conservatory

Cardboard boxes, children’s toys and rubbish were littered across the conservatory 

Paul was forced to spend thousands of pounds subjecting the house to a deep clean

Paul was forced to spend thousands of pounds subjecting the house to a deep clean

He explained: ‘The tenants were not able to pay the rent themselves so we got them the Universal Credit and got housing benefit to pay the rent

‘They were paying £380-a-month for a three bedroom terraced house. I was making a loss.

‘I was basically giving them charity and in return they treated my house like a s*******’

Since the nightmare renters moved out, Paul has been left to pick up the pieces. 

As well as deep cleaning the rancid property, Paul has had to personally make a host of costly repairs including outfitting the house with new carpets. 

He continued: ‘They moved out two weeks ago and we had to move three skips worth of rubbish out of the house. 

‘That cost over £1,000. . I’ve got to put new carpets in there as well.

‘As for the kitchen, it was disgusting, it made us all vomit so we had to get professional cleaning services in to do all the units and everything. 

‘The cooker was a shambles.

The carpets had rotted away so we had to replace them and have all the house painted all the way throughout.’

The toilet had never been cleaned and the bathroom was filled with waste products

The toilet had never been cleaned and the bathroom was filled with waste products 

Paul had intended to use the rent to help put his children through university

Paul had intended to use the rent to help put his children through university

Aside from the obvious disgust and inconvenience his tenants have caused him, the repair fiasco has left Paul in a lurch with his own children’s university fees – which he contributes to with his side earnings as a landlord. 

He said: ‘I use the money I get from my three rental properties to help my children through university and I’ve taken quite a hit on this. It has cost me thousands of pounds.

‘The maximum deposit you can set is about 5 weeks worth of rent – which doesn’t cover the damages at all.

‘My rental agent told me it was the worst state of a house he’d ever seen. It’s just shocking.’

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“The Creator”: A Glimpse Into A Future Defined By Artificial Intelligence (AI) Warfare

By Cindy Porter

In “The Creator” visionary director Gareth Edwards thrusts us into the heart of a dystopian future, where the battle lines are drawn between artificial intelligence and the free Western world.

Set against the backdrop of a post-rebellion Los Angeles, the film grapples with pressing questions about the role of AI in our society.

A Glimpse into a Future Defined by Artificial Intelligence (AI) Warfare

A Glimpse into a Future Defined by Artificial Intelligence (AI) Warfare

While the narrative treads familiar ground, it is timely, given the rising prominence of artificial intelligence in our daily lives.

A Fusion of Genres

Edwards embarks on an ambitious endeavor, blending elements of science fiction classics with contemporary themes.

The result is a cinematic stew reminiscent of James Cameron’s “Aliens” tinged with shades of “Blade Runner” a dash of “Children of Men,” and a sprinkle of “Akira” This concoction, while intriguing, occasionally veers toward familiarity rather than forging its own distinct identity.

Edwards’ Cinematic Journey

The British filmmaker, known for his foray into doomsday scenarios with the BBC docudrama “End Day” in 2005, has traversed a path from indie gem “Monsters” (2010) to the expansive Star Wars universe with “Rogue One” (2016).

“The Creator” marks another bold step in his repertoire. The film introduces compelling concepts like the posthumous donation of personality traits, punctuated by impactful visuals, and raises pertinent ethical dilemmas. It stands as a commendable endeavor, even if it occasionally falters in execution.

Navigating Complexity

In his pursuit of depth, Edwards at times stumbles into the realm of convolution, leaving the audience grappling with intricacies rather than immersing in the narrative.

While adept at crafting visual spectacles and orchestrating soundscapes, the film occasionally falters in the art of storytelling.

In an era where classic storytelling is seemingly on the wane, some may argue that this approach is emblematic of the times.

AI: Savior or Peril?

“The Creator” leaves us with a question that resonates long after the credits roll: Will artificial intelligence be humanity’s salvation or its undoing? The film’s take on machine ethics leans toward simplicity, attributing AI emotions to programmed responses.

This portrayal encapsulates the film’s stance on the subject – a theme as enigmatic as the AI it grapples with.

“The Creator”

Director: Gareth Edwards.
Starring: John David Washington, Gemma Chan, Madeleine Yuna Boyles, Ken Watanabe.
Genre: Science fiction.
Release Year: 2023.
Duration: 133 minutes.
Premiere Date: September 29.


Top 5 Movies by Gareth Edwards:

1. “Monsters” (2010)

– A breakout hit, “Monsters” showcases Edwards’ talent for blending intimate human drama with towering sci-fi spectacles. Set in a world recovering from an alien invasion, it’s a poignant tale of love amidst chaos.

2. “Rogue One” (2016)

– Edwards helms this epic Star Wars installment, seamlessly integrating new characters with the beloved original trilogy. It’s a testament to his ability to navigate complex narratives on a grand scale.

3. “End Day” (2005)

– This BBC docudrama marked Edwards’ entry into the world of speculative storytelling. Presenting five doomsday scenarios, it set the stage for his later exploration of dystopian futures.

4. “The Creator” (2023)

– Edwards’ latest venture, “The Creator,” immerses audiences in a future fraught with AI warfare. While not without its challenges, it boldly tackles pertinent questions about the role of artificial intelligence in our lives.

5. Potential Future Project

– As Edwards continues to push the boundaries of speculative cinema, audiences eagerly anticipate his next cinematic endeavor, poised to be another thought-provoking addition to his illustrious filmography.

“The Creator” stands as a testament to Gareth Edwards’ unyielding vision and his penchant for exploring the frontiers of speculative cinema.

While it doesn’t shy away from the complexities of AI, it occasionally falters in navigating its intricate narrative.

As we peer into this cinematic crystal ball, we’re left with a stark question: Will artificial intelligence be our beacon of hope, or will it cast a shadow over humanity’s future? Only time will unveil the answer.

We Can’t Thank You Enough For Your Support!

— By Cindy Porter

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