Canada bolsters Arctic defense in face of Russian, Chinese aggression

Toronto, Canada — Canada says it is going shopping for 12 conventionally powered submarines capable of operating under the Arctic ice to enhance maritime security in a region that is fast gaining strategic significance in the face of climate change.

The purchase is expected to help ease mounting pressure on Ottawa — one of the lowest-spending NATO members — to meet the alliance’s commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defense.

“As the country with the longest coastline in the world, Canada needs a new fleet of submarines,” Canadian Defense Minister Bill Blair said in a statement Wednesday as NATO leaders were meeting in Washington.

The ministry said it has begun meeting with manufacturers and will formally invite bids for the sale in the fall.

“Canada’s key submarine capability requirements will be stealth, lethality, persistence and Arctic deployability — meaning that the submarine must have extended range and endurance,” the statement said.

“Canada’s new fleet will need to provide a unique combination of these requirements to ensure that Canada can detect, track, deter and, if necessary, defeat adversaries in all three of Canada’s oceans while contributing meaningfully alongside allies and enabling the government of Canada to deploy this fleet abroad in support of our partners and allies.”

A day later in Washington, Canada, the United States and Finland issued a joint statement announcing an agreement to build icebreakers for the Arctic region.

The pact calls for enhanced information sharing on polar icebreaker production, allowing for workers and experts from each country to train in shipyards across all three, and promoting to allies the purchase of polar icebreakers from American, Finnish or Canadian shipyards for their own needs, The Associated Press reported.

The AP quoted Daleep Singh, the White House deputy national security adviser for international economics, saying the agreement would demonstrate to Russia and China that the U.S. and allies will “doggedly pursue collaboration on industrial policy to increase our competitive edge.”

Singh noted that the U.S. has two icebreakers, and both are nearing the end of their usable life. Finland has 12 icebreakers and Canada has nine, while Russia has 36, according to U.S. Coast Guard data.

The same day in Washington, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that his government had signed “a trilateral letter of intent with Germany and Norway to establish a strategic partnership aimed at strengthening maritime security cooperation in the North Atlantic in support of NATO’s deterrence and defense.”

Trudeau also said for the first time that Canada expects to reach NATO’s 2% of GDP spending target by 2032. Canada also pledged $367 million in new military aid to Ukraine ahead of a meeting Wednesday between Trudeau and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The commitments come in the face of mounting pressure for Canada to spend more on defense. A founding member of NATO, it is the alliance’s fifth-lowest spending member relative to GDP and until this week had pledged only to spend 1.76% of GDP by the 2029-30 budget year.

In a speech Monday, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson called Canada’s level of defense spending “shameful.” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell posted, “It’s time for our northern ally to invest seriously.”

NATO allies first agreed to the 2% defense spending threshold in 2006 and reaffirmed it in 2014 and 2023. This year, 23 of the 32 member states will meet or exceed that target.

Several nations have been stepping up their military and commercial capabilities in the Arctic as the receding ice pack makes navigation and petrochemical exploration in the Arctic Ocean more practicable. A sea route across Russia’s Arctic coastline promises to provide a shorter sea route between China and Europe.

Despite China’s distance from the Arctic Ocean, Beijing has dubbed itself a “near-Arctic country” to try to stake a bigger claim in the region.

VOA’s Zhang Zhenyu wrote this article and Adrianna Zhang contributed.

Russian oil depot burns as Russia, Ukraine exchange drone attacks

KYIV, Ukraine — An oil depot caught fire in Russia’s southwestern Rostov region Saturday following a Ukrainian drone attack in the early hours, local officials said, in the latest long-range strike by Kyiv’s forces on a border region.

Ukraine has in recent months stepped up aerial assaults on Russian soil, targeting refineries and oil terminals in an effort to slow down the Kremlin’s war machine. Moscow’s army is pressing hard along the front line in eastern Ukraine, where a shortage of troops and ammunition in the third year of war has made defenders vulnerable.

Rostov regional Governor Vasily Golubev said a drone attack had caused a blaze spanning 200 square meters (2,100 square feet), but there were no casualties. Some five hours after he reported the fire on Telegram, Golubev said the fire had been extinguished.

In addition to two drones being intercepted over the Rostov region, Russian air defense systems overnight destroyed two drones over the country’s western Kursk and Belgorod regions, the Russian Ministry of Defense said Saturday.

Ukraine’s air defenses, meanwhile, intercepted four of the five drones launched by Russia overnight, the Ukrainian Air Force said Saturday morning. Mykola Oleschuk, commander of Ukraine’s Air Forces, said the fifth drone left Ukrainian airspace in the direction of Belarus.

In other developments, Vadym Filashkin, the Ukrainian governor of the partly occupied eastern Donetsk region, said Saturday that Russian attacks on Friday killed six people and wounded a further 22.

Oleksandr Prokudin, governor of the Kherson region that is also partly occupied, said Saturday that one person had been killed and six wounded as a result of Russian shelling over the previous day.

Holocaust orphan finds family, thanks to DNA tests

NORTH CHARLESTON, South Carolina — Shalom Korai never knew his real name or his birthday. He was saved from the streets of a burning Warsaw neighborhood while he was a toddler during World War II, when the rest of his family was killed by Nazis in Poland.   

He grew up and lived in Israel with no idea of his past. He never knew a hug from someone who shared his blood or his DNA — until Wednesday, when Korai walked off an airplane in the U.S. state of South Carolina and into the arms of Ann Meddin Hellman. Her grandfather was the brother of Korai’s grandfather, making them second cousins. 

It’s a story that would have been impossible without modern DNA science and without a genetic test that Korai was given by a psychologist who studies children orphaned in the Holocaust. 

Hellman’s ancestors came to the United States while Korai’s family stayed behind in Poland to run a family business. Decades later, they would be among the 6 million Jewish men, women and children systematically killed by the Germans in World War II.   

“I feel like I’ve given somebody a new life. He’s become my child. I have to protect him and take care of him,” Hellman said, although she is a few years younger than Korai, who is about 83. 

She beamed and gave Korai another hug as they waited for his luggage so they could start several days of parties with dozens of other relatives at Hellman’s Charleston home. 

Korai, who speaks mostly Hebrew, couldn’t stop smiling even if he didn’t quite understand the hubbub of camera crews and Southern hospitality swirling around him. He and Hellman spoke often since the DNA breakthrough, first in letters and later on video calls several times a week.   

As Hellman waited at the end of the jetway, she nervously spoke to her brother and sister. “I can’t wait to get my arms around him,” she said. 

What is known of Korai’s story started with him alone. He was on a street in a burning Jewish ghetto in Warsaw in 1943 when a policeman scooped him up and took him to a convent. Nuns baptized him and started to raise him as a gentile with several other orphaned children. 

Lena Kuchler-Silberman, a Jewish woman who was part of the resistance against the Nazis, heard of the children. She saved around 100 Jewish children, sometimes taking them in as she found them abandoned or alone or sometimes negotiating or paying to take them out of non-Jewish orphanages. 

Korai was taken to a Jewish boarding school in Poland, then to France and eventually to Israel in 1949. He spent 35 years working on semi-trucks. Korai had three children and eight grandchildren. And he put out of his mind that he would never know his actual birthday, the name given to him at birth, how his father and mother met or what his grandfathers did for a living. 

“You can’t start searching for something you know nothing about,” Korai said in Hebrew to the website for MyHeritage, the company whose DNA testing helped find his relatives. 

MyHeritage offered Korai and other Holocaust orphans DNA testing in the summer of 2023. A few months later Hellman got a ping from a DNA sample she had given during her extensive research of her family tree. It was an unknown second cousin. 

The name and other information was unfamiliar. On a hunch, she asked another cousin to test her DNA. It matched too. Hellman reached out to MyHeritage and requested a photo and other information. She remembers gasping when she saw Korai. He looked just like her brother.   

“The picture gave it away,” Hellman said.  

The connection instantly fell into place. Hellman knew a branch of her family connected to her great uncle was killed during the Holocaust. Now she knew there was a survivor. 

Hellman wasn’t looking for anyone in particular when she took her DNA test, but sometimes wonderful surprises happen, said Daniel Horowitz, an expert genealogist at MyHeritage. 

“All this family that he was always praying for came to him just like that,” Horowitz said.   

Some mysteries remain, thanks to the Nazi annihilation of people and many records of their existence. Hellman knows the name of Korai’s aunt. “But I haven’t been able to find his parents’ names. That upsets me the most,” she said. 

Hellman has learned much about her cousin. He’s shy and quiet. As Korai got off the plane Wednesday along with his travel companion and translator, Arie Bauer, he jokingly asked if he could stand behind Bauer. His friend told him to hug his family. 

“It’s slowly dawning on him,” said Bauer. “He’s getting used to, little by little, a brand new family he didn’t know about.” 

It wasn’t just Hellman at the airport. More than a dozen other relatives — Hellman’s brother and sister, her husband and sons, a niece, sister-in-law and cousins were there to celebrate. Dozens more were gathered at Hellman’s house for more parties and gatherings. 

Korai smiled as each of his relatives hugged him. In quieter moments when they talked among themselves, he looked them over. 

“He’ll get to see himself in them in a way he has never gotten to see himself before,” Hellman said. “And we get to give a family to someone who never thought one existed.” 

Ukrainian displaced persons open businesses after relocation

Nearly 4 million Ukrainians are internally displaced since Russia’s invasion. As of early May, nearly 150,000 of them were living in the Khmelnytskyi region, west of Kyiv. Some of them say they aren’t waiting for the war to end and are building new lives where they are. Tetiana Kukurika has the story, narrated by Anna Rice. Camera: Sergiy Rybchynski.

NATO summit highlights stakes of US elections

U.S. lawmakers meeting with NATO allies in Washington this week are looking at how the U.S. presidential election in November may affect support for Ukraine’s defense against Russia. VOA’s Congressional Correspondent Katherine Gypson has more from Capitol Hill.

Kremlin calls talk of long-range missiles in Ukraine ‘dangerous escalation’

Russia says it sentences OSCE employee to prison for spying in east Ukraine

Eswatini-Belarus ties spark health care advances

MBABANE, ESWATINI — Eswatini, in an ambitious bid to overhaul its health care system, is partnering with Belarus, paving the way for what officials in the southern African nation hope will be increased access to critical medicines, and the sharing of expertise between Belarusian and Eswatini health care professionals.

 An Eswatini delegation led by Prime Minister Russell Dlamini signed the health care roadmap with Belarus during a weeklong visit in late June. Principal Secretary Bertram Stewart, who was part of the delegation, said the agreement will unlock new access to medicines, medical equipment, and training opportunities, and introduce new models that could alleviate Eswatini’s health care procurement challenges.

“We do look forward to long-term collaborations with Belarus and, of course, the intention is to have reciprocal relations with Belarus wherein whatever we can export to Belarus, they will, subject to quality and price, they will be able to take it and likewise, we will reciprocate by procuring from Belarus whatever we feel is of the right quality for the Kingdom of Eswatini,” he said.

According to the World Health Organization, Eswatini has the highest incidence rate of cervical cancer in the world, with 56 new cases per 100,000 women annually. Eswatini also has one of the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in the world, with more than 27% of adults living with the disease. And the country has a limited number of doctors and nurses, and many rural areas lack access to basic health care services.   

While the government’s partnership with Belarus could usher in a new era of improved healthcare in Eswatini, for people like Sheila Coleman, who lost both her son and sister to chronic illnesses, the lack of advanced cancer care in the country has been devastating. For many patients, this has meant costly, life-or-death journeys to South Africa for treatment—a burden the government says it is now working to alleviate.

“I am proud of my country but of late, have been so disappointed with the health sector of this country,” Coleman said. “I feel that the government has failed us as Emaswati and I say this because of experiences that I have had. … Being diagnosed with a chronic illness in this country is basically a death sentence.”

Thys Louren, a doctor in Eswatini, sees great potential in this health care partnership that could lead to job creation, expert skill attraction, and technology transfer. But he cautions that there are critical questions to answer before this collaboration can be deemed a success.

“What will Belarus benefit from this proposed joint venture,” he asked. “Is the purpose of this joint venture for research purposes because it would provide a very attractive cheaper research cost? Or would it focus on import consumables into Eswatini, which is of concern because we already have pharmaceutical companies in Eswatini and cash flow and availability of stock import is the problem.

“Then lastly, is it for the production of pharmaceuticals which could be highly beneficial to Eswatini because it could, one, stimulate local economy and, two, cater for the significant shortage that we are experiencing especially in the cancer care section where chemotherapy is available locally and patients actually have to cross border for treatment.”

For many in Eswatini, this is a time of unprecedented need. And the nation is placing its health care hopes in the hands of Belarusian expertise. As the partnership unfolds, the nation awaits a pivotal moment, where either an era of medical breakthroughs is born, or the promise of a new dawn fades into the shadows.

Hungary’s Orban, a NATO outlier on Ukraine, talks ‘peace mission’ with Trump

WASHINGTON — Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban met with Donald Trump on Thursday and the pair discussed the “possibilities of peace,” a spokesperson for the prime minister said as he pushes for a cease-fire in Ukraine.

Trump and Orban met at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Florida “as the next stop of his peace mission,” Orban’s spokesperson said. “The discussion was about the possibilities of peace.”

Nationalist leader Orban, a longtime Trump supporter, made surprise visits to Kyiv, Moscow and Beijing in the past two weeks on a self-styled “peace mission,” angering NATO allies.

His meeting in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin in particular vexed some other NATO members, who said the trip handed legitimacy to Putin when the West wants to isolate him over his war in Ukraine.

Orban traveled to Kyiv before visiting Moscow but did not tell Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy about his mission to Russia, Zelenskiy said, dismissing Orban’s ambition of playing the peacemaker.

“Not all the leaders can make negotiations. You need to have some power for this,” Zelenskiy said earlier at a news conference at the NATO summit.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, when asked about Orban’s initiative, said Ukraine would be rightly concerned about any attempt to negotiate a peace deal without involving Kyiv.

“Whatever adventurism is being undertaken without Ukraine’s consent or support is not something that’s consistent with our policy, the foreign policy of the United States,” Sullivan said.

Orban’s self-styled peace mission has also irked many members of the European Union, whose rotating presidency Hungary took over at the start of this month.

The Hungarian embassy in Washington declined to comment on the planned meeting with Trump, which was first reported by Bloomberg.

Orban has been attending a NATO summit hosted by Democratic President Joe Biden. Hungary’s delegation voiced opposition to key NATO positions, while not blocking the alliance from taking action.

Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told Reuters on Wednesday that Hungary believes a second Trump presidency would boost hopes for peace in Ukraine.

Orban hoped to bring an end to the war through peace talks involving both Russia and Ukraine, according to Szijjarto.

Trump has said he would quickly end the war. He has not offered a detailed plan to achieve that, but Reuters reported last month that advisers to the former president had presented him with a plan to end the war in part by making future aid to Kyiv conditional on Ukraine joining peace talks.

In the past several months, foreign officials have regularly sought meetings with Trump and his key advisers to discuss his foreign policy should he beat Biden in the November 5 election. Polls show Trump widening his lead over Biden.

One adviser, Keith Kellogg, has met with several high-ranking foreign officials on the sidelines of the NATO summit, Reuters reported this week.

NATO frustration

Orban appeared isolated at the opening of a NATO meeting on Ukraine on Thursday, sitting alone while other leaders talked in a huddle.

Two European diplomats told Reuters that NATO allies were frustrated with Orban’s actions around the summit but stressed that he had not blocked the alliance from taking action on Ukraine.

Multiple EU leaders made clear Orban was not speaking for the bloc in his discussions on the war in Ukraine.

“I don’t think there’s any point in having conversations with authoritarian regimes that are violating international law,” said Finnish President Alexander Stubb.

Hungary also diverged from its NATO allies on China, which the alliance said is an enabler of Russia’s war effort and poses challenges to security. Hungary does not want NATO to become an “anti-China” bloc, and will not support it doing so, Szijjarto said Thursday.

Australia charges Russian-born married couple with espionage

SYDNEY — Australia said Friday it had arrested a Russian-born married couple on espionage charges, alleging the woman who was an information systems technician in the Australian Army sought to access defense material and send it to Russian officials.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) said the couple, who hold Australian citizenship, worked to access material related to Australia’s national security though no significant compromise had been identified yet.

“We allege they sought that information with the intention of providing it to Russian authorities,” AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw said during a media briefing.

“Whether that information was handed over remains a key focus of our investigation.”

The AFP said the woman, 40, traveled to Russia and instructed her husband in Australia to log into her official account to access defense materials.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese warned anyone considering acting against Australia’s national security.

“People will be held to account who interfere with our national interests and that’s precisely what these arrests represent,” Albanese told reporters. He declined to comment directly on the case saying it was before the court.

Igor and Kira Korolev appeared in the magistrate’s court in Brisbane, court filings showed, after being charged with one count each of preparing for an espionage offense, which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in jail. The charges are the first under new laws introduced in 2018.

They did not apply for bail and were remanded in custody until September 20 when they are next due to appear, media reported.

The couple has been living in Australia for more than 10 years, with the woman getting Australian citizenship in 2016 and her husband in 2020.

The arrests come as Australia on Thursday unveiled an $169 million military aid package for Ukraine at the NATO summit in Washington, the country’s single largest aid package since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

Australia is one of the largest non-NATO contributors to the West’s support for Ukraine and has been supplying defense equipment to Kyiv, banned exports of aluminum ores to Russia and sanctioned more than 1,000 Russian individuals and entities. 

NATO, Pacific partners strengthen ties at summit

washington — NATO set out Thursday to deepen relations with key Indo-Pacific partners, meeting with leaders from Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea a day after all 32 NATO allies called out China for its support of Russia’s illegal war against Ukraine in a sternly worded communique.

During a working session, NATO and its Indo-Pacific partners strengthened plans and developed strategies to face growing threats in the Pacific region, including North Korean missile launches and China’s steady stream of technology and raw materials to Russia that have allowed President Vladimir Putin to replace his losses on the battlefield.

U.S. officials said the Indo-Pacific partners’ attendance sent a message to China that democratic alliances will stand up for the rule of law, no matter where an aggressor tries to break it.

“NATO also recognizes that threats from the Indo-Pacific, whether it’s the DPRK [North Korea] or the PRC [China] supporting Russia in their aggression against Ukraine, we cannot avoid,” Jason Israel, National Security Council senior director for defense policy, Israel told VOA.

In a final communique signed by all 32 allies, NATO called China a “decisive enabler” of Russia’s war and urged Beijing to cease its support. 

“The PRC cannot enable the largest war in Europe in recent history without this negatively impacting its interests and reputation,” the leaders wrote.

They also expressed concerns about Beijing’s space capabilities and nuclear arsenal.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday told reporters that “China is propping up Russia’s war economy” and “increas[ing] the threat Russia holds to Europe and NATO security.”

“China provides dual-use equipment, microelectronics and a lot of other tools which are enabling Russia to build the missiles, to build bombs, to build the aircraft, to build the weapons they’re using to attack Ukraine,” he added.

Asked by VOA whether the statement was a strong enough message to deter China from continuing to support Russia, Stoltenberg replied in the news conference that Wednesday’s declaration was “the strongest message that NATO allies have ever sent on China’s contributions to Russia’s illegal war against Ukraine.”

Some allies on Thursday cautioned the alliance against using the narrowly worded communique as a springboard to make NATO appear “anti-China.”

“NATO is a defense alliance. … We can’t organize it into an anti-China bloc,” Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told Hungarian state television on the sidelines of the summit.

However, defense expert Bradley Bowman, the senior director for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Center on Military and Political Power, said calling out China was long overdue for the bloc.

“Europeans are dying in Europe in a war of aggression from the Kremlin with the support of Iran, North Korea and China, period,” he said.

U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday said NATO must counter Russia’s ramping up of defense production — made possible by help from China, North Korea and Iran — by continuing to invest more in Ukraine’s and NATO’s own defense production.

“We cannot allow the alliance to fall behind,” Biden said. 

China insists that it does not provide military aid to Russia, despite maintaining strong trade ties with Moscow.

On Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian accused NATO of “breaching its boundary, expanding its mandate, reaching beyond its defense zone and stoking confrontation.”

West preparing for arms race with Russia and its backers

Washington — While much of the focus at the NATO summit in Washington has been on providing additional support for Ukraine, some Western officials are equally intent on confronting another challenge unleashed by Russia’s invasion: a nascent arms race with global implications.

The officials argue it is no longer enough to try to ensure Ukraine has the weapons and systems it needs to keep pace with Russia’s unrelenting attacks. They say NATO must simultaneously prepare to outspend, outpace and outproduce the fledgling alliance that has kept the Russian military on the move.

“There is no time to lose,” a NATO official told VOA, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the growing defense cooperation among Russia, China, North Korea and Iran.

“This must be a key priority for all our allies, because it is not just about spending more,” the official said. “It is also on getting those capabilities.”

Officials have repeatedly accused China of playing a critical role in sustaining Russia’s military by sending Moscow raw materials and so-called dual-use components needed to produce advanced weapons and weapons systems.

In April and May, the United States and Britain levied new sanctions against Iranian companies and officials involved in the production of drones for the Russian military.

And declassified U.S. intelligence has noted Russia’s use of North Korean ballistic missiles, while South Korean officials said earlier this year that Pyongyang has so far sent Russia at least 6,700 containers which could contain more than 3 million artillery shells. 

The NATO official who spoke to VOA said the support from China, Iran and North Korea has significantly altered Russia’s posture on the battlefield, rendering intelligence assessments that Russia’s military “will require years of rebuilding” obsolete.  

“When you look at the assessments of the pace of reconstitution of the Russian armed forces and the Russian defense industrial and technological base, those assessments were made without taking into account how much China would be stepping in,” the official said.

And there are concerns this is just the beginning. The prospect for increased cooperation between Russia, China, North Korea and Iran, “essentially underlines the urgency of the task at hand,” the official said.

Some U.S. officials have taken to calling the growing alliance a new “axis of evil.”

“We ought to act accordingly,” former commander of U.S. forces in the Indo-Pacific Admiral John Aquilino told lawmakers in March. 

Some analysts are also alarmed, seeing signs that the defense relationship between Russia and the other countries is moving beyond a series of bilateral efforts to support Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

“What we are seeing now is … an intensification, a deepening of these strategic partnerships,” said Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

“Whether or not they’re 100% aligned all the time, every day, what’s important is that on the strategic capabilities that they’re building in partnership, they are aligned,” Goldberg, a U.S. National Security Council official under former President Donald Trump, told VOA. “Our response has to view them as an axis, not individual parts.”

But how quickly that axis evolves into a true rival to NATO is less certain.

“There are still significant tension points between the four countries that prevent the formation of a more cohesive alliance,” said Michelle Grisé, a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation.

“Within the Russia-Iran relationship, for example, friction points include competition for energy markets and for influence in the Caucasus, as well as — at least historically —divergent approaches to Israel,” Grisé told VOA.

“The Russia-China-North Korea-Iran axis poses a serious threat to U.S. and NATO interests, but I don’t think this axis is an unsurmountable rival,” she said. “To form a more cohesive alliance, they’ll have to translate their shared opposition to the Western-led international order into a coherent, shared vision for the future, which I expect they’ll struggle to do.”

NATO allies, however, are not ready to take such struggles by the evolving Russian-Chinese-North Korean-Iranian axis for granted.

In a speech July 9 at the NATO Summit Defense Industry Forum in Washington, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks noted the “rapid defense industrial expansion of our strategic competitors,” while urging NATO allies to expand cooperation on weapons procurement and development.

As an example, Hicks cited an effort by the U.S., Germany, Spain and others to produce interceptors for Patriot air defense batteries in Europe while praising a U.S.-Turkish effort to produce 155-millimeter artillery shells in the southern U.S. state of Texas.

“None of us should think it’s enough,” she said. “Expanding transatlantic defense industrial capacity is not a nice-to-do. It is a need-to-do, a must-do for the NATO alliance.”

Even if the NATO efforts to boost weapons production are not enough, some officials see them as a reason to believe the West can retain an upper hand.

“I think that the steps and the progress we’re making is really delivering results,” the NATO official told VOA, adding, they “wouldn’t be overly pessimistic.”

“On issues like ammunitions, you’re starting to see the ramping up actually materializing,” the official said. “And I think if we look at the year to come, we’re going to have much better, much better numbers.” 

‘Putin shall not prevail’ in Ukraine, Norway’s foreign minister tells VOA

TV footage shows French cathedral’s spire now clear of smoke

Paris — A thick plume of dark smoke that was seen rising from the spire of the gothic cathedral in the French city of Rouen in Normandy was no longer visible on the latest live TV footage from BFM channel on Thursday. 

Authorities said earlier the spire had caught fire during renovation works, as footage showed people in the streets below looking up in horror at the sight of the dark smoke billowing from inside the scaffolding into the sky. 

In the latest images, smoke could still be seen through a gap in the white cover encircling the scaffolding around the spire but was no longer rising in a dark column. 

A jewel of French medieval gothic architecture, the cathedral dates back to the 12th century and was repeatedly painted by impressionist artist Claude Monet in the 19th century, lifting its worldwide fame. 

The earlier scenes were reminiscent of the devastating fire at Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris in 2019, which also started during renovation works. 

In April this year, fire ripped through Copenhagen’s Old Stock Exchange, one of the Danish capital’s most historic landmarks, and toppled its spire. Large parts of the outer walls later collapsed. 

The Rouen cathedral spire had been surrounded by scaffolding and the white cover for several weeks. 

The local prefecture, which exercises state authority in the region, said the cathedral had been evacuated and emergency services were on the scene. A security cordon was in place around the building. 

The prefecture said there were no reports of casualties and the extent of the damage was unclear for now. 

EU accepts Apple plan to open iPhone tap-to-pay to rivals

Brussels — The EU on Thursday approved Apple’s offer to allow rivals access to the iPhone’s ability to tap-to-pay within the bloc, ending a lengthy probe and sparing it a heavy fine.

The case dates back to 2022 when Brussels first accused Apple of blocking rivals from its popular iPhone tap payment system in a breach of EU competition law.

“Apple has committed to allow rivals to access the ‘tap and go’ technology of iPhones. Today’s decision makes Apple’s commitments binding,” EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.

“From now on, competitors will be able to effectively compete with Apple Pay for mobile payments with the iPhone in shops. So consumers will have a wider range of safe and innovative mobile wallets to choose from,” she said.

The EU previously found that Apple enjoyed a dominant position by restricting access to “tap-as-you-go” chips or near-field communication (NFC), which allows devices to interconnect within a very short range, to favor its own system.

Now competitors will have access to the standard technology behind contactless payments to offer alternative tap-to-pay tools to iPhone users in the European Economic Area (EEA), which includes the EU and also Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

Only customers with an Apple ID registered in the EEA would be able to make use of these outside apps, the European Commission said in a statement.

The changes must remain in force for 10 years and a “monitoring trustee” must be chosen by Apple to report to the commission during that period on their implementation.

Apple had risked a fine of up to 10% of its total worldwide annual turnover. Apple’s total revenue in the year to September 2023 stood at $383 billion.

“Apple Pay and Apple Wallet will continue to be available in the EEA for users and developers, and will continue to provide an easy, secure and private way to pay, as well as present passes seamlessly from Apple Wallet,” the company said in a statement.

The probe’s conclusion comes at a particularly difficult moment in relations between the EU and Apple, especially over the bloc’s new competition rules for big tech.

The Digital Markets Act (DMA) seeks to ensure tech titans do not privilege their own services over rivals, but the iPhone maker says it puts users’ privacy at risk.

One of the DMA’s main objectives is to give consumers more choice in the web browsers, app marketplaces, search engines and other digital services they use.

The EU in June accused Apple of breaching the DMA by preventing developers from freely pointing consumers to alternative channels for offers and content outside of its proprietary App Store.

It also kickstarted another probe under the DMA into Apple’s new fees for app developers.

The company could face heavy fines if the DMA violations are confirmed.

In March, the EU slapped a $1.9 billion fine on Apple in a different antitrust case but the company has appealed the penalty in an EU court.

Brussels also forced Apple last year to scrap its Lightning port on new iPhone models, in a change that was introduced worldwide and not just in Europe.