In Scorched UK, Source of River Thames Dries Up

At the end of a dusty track in southwest England where the River Thames usually first emerges from the ground, there is scant sign of any moisture at all.

The driest start to a year in decades has shifted the source of this emblematic English river several miles downstream, leaving scorched earth and the occasional puddle where water once flowed.

It is a striking illustration of the parched conditions afflicting swaths of England, which have prompted a growing number of regional water restrictions and fears that an official drought will soon be declared.

“We haven’t found the Thames yet,” said Michael Sanders, on holiday with his wife in the area known as the official source of the river.

The couple were planning to walk some of the Thames Path that stretches along its entire winding course — once they can find the waterway’s new starting point.

“It’s completely dried up,” the IT worker from northern England told AFP in the village of Ashton Keynes, a few miles from the source, noting it had been replaced by “the odd puddle, the odd muddy bit.”

“So hopefully downstream we’ll find the Thames, but at the moment it’s gone,” he said.

The river begins from an underground spring in this picturesque region at the foot of the Cotswolds hills, not far from Wales, before meandering for 350 kilometers (215 miles) to the North Sea.

Along the way it helps supply fresh water to millions of homes, including those in the British capital, London.

‘So arid’

Following months of minimal rainfall, including the driest July in England since the 1930s, the country’s famously lush countryside has gone from shades of green to yellow.

“It was like walking across the savanna in Africa, because it’s so arid and so dry,” David Gibbons said.

The 60-year-old retiree has been walking the length of the Thames Path in the opposite direction from Sanders — from estuary to source — with his wife and friends.

As the group members reached their destination, in a rural area of narrow country roads dotted with stone-built houses, Gibbons recounted the range of wildlife they had encountered on their journey.

The Thames, which becomes a navigable, strategic and industrial artery as it passes through London and its immediate surroundings, is typically far more idyllic upstream and a haven for bird watching and boating.

However, as they neared the source, things changed.

“In this last two or three days, [there’s been] no wildlife, because there’s no water,” Gibbons said. “I think water stopped probably 10 miles away from here; there’s one or two puddles,” he added from picturesque Ashton Keynes.

Andrew Jack, a 47-year-old local government worker who lives about 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the village, said locals had “never seen it as dry and as empty as this.”

The river usually runs alongside its main street, which boasts pretty houses with flower-filled gardens and several small stone footbridges over the water.

But the riverbed there is parched and cracked, the only visible wildlife were some wasps hovering over it, recalling images of some southern African rivers during the subcontinent’s dry season.

‘Something’s changed’

There will be no imminent respite for England’s thirsty landscape.

The country’s meteorological office on Tuesday issued an amber heat warning for much of southern England and eastern Wales between Thursday and Sunday, with temperatures set to reach the mid-30s Celsius.

It comes weeks after a previous heat wave broke Britain’s all-time temperature record and breached 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) for the first time.

Climate scientists overwhelmingly agree that carbon emissions from humans burning fossil fuels are heating the planet, raising the risk and severity of droughts, heat waves and other such extreme weather events.

Local authorities are reiterating calls to save water, and Thames Water, which supplies 15 million people in London and elsewhere, is the latest provider to announce forthcoming restrictions.

But Gibbons was sanguine.

“Having lived in England all my life, we’ve had droughts before,” he said. “I think that it will go green again by the autumn.”

Jack was more pessimistic as he walked with his family along the dried-up riverbed, where a wooden measuring stick gauges nonexistent water levels.

“I think there are lots of English people who think, ‘Great, let’s have some European weather,’ ” he said. “But we actually shouldn’t, and it means that something’s changed and something has gone wrong.

“I’m concerned that it’s only going to get worse and that the U.K. is going to have to adapt to hotter weather as we have more and more summers like this.”

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British IS ‘Beatle’ Suspect Arrested on Return to UK, Media Says

A British man accused of being part of an Islamic State (IS) kidnap-and-murder cell known as the “Beatles” was arrested Wednesday when he returned to the UK, media reports said.

Aine Davis, 38, was arrested after landing at Luton airport on a flight from Turkey, where he had been serving a prison sentence for terrorism offenses, according to BBC News and other U.K. outlets.

He is suspected to be a member of the IS cell, which held dozens of foreign hostages in Syria between 2012 and 2015 and was known to their captives as the “Beatles” because of their British accents.

The Metropolitan Police, which leads anti-terror investigations in the U.K., said in a statement that officers had arrested a man at Luton airport.

But the London force, which does not name suspects until they are charged with a crime, did not name the person being held.

“The 38-year-old man was arrested this evening after he arrived into the UK on a flight from Turkey,” the statement said.

The Met said the man was arrested under several different sections of British anti-terrorism laws and taken to a south London police station “where he currently remains in police custody.”

The interior ministry said in a statement that a British national had been deported from Turkey to the U.K.

“It would be inappropriate to comment further while police enquiries are ongoing,” it added.

The four members of the “Beatles” are accused of abducting at least 27 journalists and relief workers from the United States, Britain, Europe, New Zealand, Russia and Japan.

They were all allegedly involved in the murder of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, as well as aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller.

The quartet allegedly tortured and killed the four American victims, including by beheading, and IS released videos of the murders for propaganda purposes.

Alexanda Kotey, a 38-year-old former British national extradited from the U.K. to the U.S. in 2020 to face charges there, pleaded guilty to his role in the deaths last September and was sentenced to life in prison in April.

El Shafee Elsheikh, 34, another former British national also extradited to the U.S. at the same time, was found guilty of all charges in April, and will be sentenced next week.

The fourth “Beatle,” Mohamed Emwazi, was killed by a U.S. drone in Syria in 2015.

Elsheikh and Kotey were captured in January 2018 by a Kurdish militia in Syria and turned over to U.S. forces in Iraq before being sent to Britain.

They were eventually flown to Virginia in 2020 to face charges of hostage-taking, conspiracy to murder U.S. citizens and supporting a foreign terrorist organization.

Davis served a 7½-year sentence in Turkey for membership in the terrorist group, according to reports.

In 2014, his wife, Amal El-Wahabi, became the first person in Britain to be convicted of funding IS jihadists after trying to send 20,000 euros, worth $25,000 at the time, to him in Syria.

She was jailed for 28 months following a trial in which Davis was described as a drug dealer before he went to Syria to fight with IS.

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Wildfires Rage in France; Thousands Evacuated From Homes 

Wildfires tore through the Gironde region of southwestern France on Wednesday, destroying homes and forcing the evacuation of 10,000 residents, some of whom had clambered onto rooftops as the flames got closer. 

Black-and-orange skies, darkened by the smoke billowing from forests and lit up by the flames, were seen across the area as the fires continued to burn out of control despite the efforts of firefighters backed by water-bombing aircraft. 

Fires, which have razed about 6,200 hectares, have now crossed into the neighboring Landes region. 

France, like the rest of Europe, has been struggling this summer with successive heat waves and its worst drought on record. Dozens of wildfires are ablaze across the country, including at least eight major ones. 

“Prepare your papers, the animals you can take with you, some belongings,” the Gironde municipality of Belin-Beliet said on Facebook before evacuating parts of the town. 

In the nearby village of Hostens, police had earlier been door to door telling residents to leave as the fire advanced. Camille Delay fled with her partner and her son, grabbing their two cats, chickens and house insurance papers. 

“Everyone in the village climbed onto their rooftops to see what was happening. Within 10 minutes, a little twist of smoke became enormous,” Delay, 30, told Reuters by telephone. 

Firefighters said more evacuations were likely. Even so, some Hostens residents were reluctant to abandon their homes. 

“It’s complicated to go with the dogs, and we cannot leave them here,” said Allisson Horan, 18, who stayed behind with her father. 

“I’m getting worried because the fire is in a plot of land behind ours, and the wind is starting to change direction.” 

Numerous small roads and a highway were closed. 

Heat waves 

More than 57,200 hectares have gone up in flames so far in France this year, nearly six times the full-year average for 2006-2021, data from the European Forest Fire Information System show. 

“The fire is creating its own wind,” senior local official Martin Guespereau told reporters, adding that efforts to fight it were made more difficult by how unpredictable it was. 

Sweden and Italy are among countries preparing to send help to France, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said. 

He repeated calls for everyone to be responsible — nine out of 10 fires are either voluntarily or involuntarily caused by people, he said. 

The Gironde wildfire is one of many that have broken out across Europe this summer, triggered by heat waves that have baked the continent and brought record temperatures. 

In Portugal, nearly 1,200 firefighters backed by eight aircraft have battled a blaze in the mountainous Covilha area 280 km northeast of Lisbon that has burned more than 3,000 hectares of forest since Saturday. 

Spain and Greece have also had to tackle multiple fires over the past few weeks. 

The Gironde was hit by major wildfires in July that destroyed more than 20,000 hectares of forest and temporarily forced almost 40,000 people from their homes. 

Authorities believe the latest inferno was a result of the previous fires still smoldering in the area’s peaty soil. 

Fires were also raging in the southern departments of Lozere and Aveyron. In the Maine-et-Loire department in western France, more than 1,200 hectares have been scorched by another fire.

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Russians Buy Last Goods From H&M, IKEA as Stores Wind Down

Russians are snapping up Western fashion and furniture this week as H&M and IKEA sell off the last of their inventory in Russia, moving forward with their exit from the country after it sent troops into Ukraine.

Sweden-based H&M and Netherlands-based IKEA had paused sales in Russia after the military operation began and are now looking to unload their stocks of clothing and furnishings as they wind down operations there, saying the future is unpredictable. IKEA’s sales are online only, while the H&M store at the Moscow shopping mall Aviapark saw a steady stream of young shoppers Tuesday.

The racks and shelves were well stocked in the clothing retailer. Nearby shops were closed, including Zara, Oysho, Bershka, Pull&Bear and Uniqlo, while New Yorker, Finn Flare, Marks & Spencer and Mango were open.

“I will start looking at Russian brands,” one H&M shopper, who gave only her first name, Anya, said after emerging from the store. Another shopper, who gave his name only as Leonid, said he was “very hurt” that H&M is closing down: “A good store is leaving.”

Both companies are laying off staffers as they scale down business in Russia. H&M said Tuesday that 6,000 workers will be affected and that it was working on details of offering continued support in the coming months.

IKEA said in June that many workers will lose their jobs and it has guaranteed six months of pay for them, as well as core benefits. It said this week that it has 15,000 workers in Russia and Belarus, but it did not immediately confirm how many would be laid off.

“We are deeply saddened about the impact this will have on our colleagues and very grateful for all their hard work and dedication,” H&M Group CEO Helena Helmersson said last month.

Many Western companies promised to leave Russia after it sent troops into Ukraine, taking months to wind down operations and often selling holdings to Russian firms. McDonald’s sold its 850 restaurants to a Russian franchisee owner, who is moving to reopen them under the name Vkusno-i Tochka. British energy giants Shell and BP are taking billions of dollars in charges to exit investments and holdings in Russia.

Meanwhile, some Western companies have remained in Russia or are partially operating. French-owned home improvement retailer Leroy Merlin has kept open its 112 stores in Russia, for example, while PepsiCo, Nestle and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson are supplying essentials like medications and baby formula while halting nonessential sales.

H&M said it expects costs from leaving Russia to reach about 2 billion Swedish kronor ($197 million), which will be included as one-time costs in its third-quarter earnings this year.

IKEA said in June that it will start looking for new owners for its four factories in Russia and will close its purchase and logistics offices in Moscow and Minsk, Belarus, a key Russian ally.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has pushed for years to develop and deploy Russian substitute goods and services to make up for the loss of Western imports, which has taken on new urgency as companies like H&M and IKEA wind down operations.

It can be difficult to tell when stores in Russia are closed. At the famous GUM department store lined with shops in Red Square, most of the closed storefronts still have the lights on and a clerk or guard inside.

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Stranded Whale Euthanized After Removal From French River 

A beluga whale that captured French hearts when it showed up in the Seine River had to be euthanized Wednesday after it was successfully removed from the French waterway, authorities said.

A rescue team was preparing to transfer the whale to a saltwater pool in Normandy. The male marine mammal was first spotted in the Seine last week after having accidentally veered off its normal path to the Arctic.

During the rescue operation, the dangerously thin animal began to have breathing difficulties, and so experts decided the most humane thing to do was to euthanize the creature.

“During the journey, the veterinarians confirmed a worsening of its state, notably its respiratory activities, and at the same time noticed the animal was in pain, not breathing enough,” Florence Ollivet Courtois, a French wild animal expert, said. “The suffering was obvious for the animal, so it was important to release its tension, and so we had to proceed to euthanize it.”

Conservation group Sea Shepherd France said veterinary exams after the beluga’s removal from the river showed it has no digestive activity. Members of the organization had tried unsuccessfully since Friday to feed fish to the whale.

Courtois said the whale experienced distress after it was moved to a refrigerated truck and during the approximately 160-kilometer (99-mile) drive to the Normandy coast.

The whale was expected to spend several days recuperating in the saltwater pool in the northeastern French port town of Ouistreham before being towed out to sea.

The rescue team said ahead of time that the transfer carried a risk of the whale dying because of the stress involved in the process. However, the move was deemed necessary because the animal would not have been able to survive in much longer in the Seine’s fresh water.

“The decision to euthanize the beluga was taken as it was too weakened to be put back into water,” Guillaume Lericolais, the subprefect of France’s Calvados region, said.

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Polio Spreading in London, Booster Campaign Launched for Kids Under 10

Britain is launching a polio vaccine booster campaign for children in London aged below 10, after confirming that the virus is spreading in the capital for the first time since the 1980s. 

The UK Health Security Agency has identified 116 polioviruses from 19 sewage samples this year in London. It first raised the alert on finding the virus in sewage samples in June.  

The levels of poliovirus found since and the genetic diversity indicated that transmission was taking place in a number of London boroughs, the agency said on Wednesday. 

No cases have yet been identified but, in a bid to get ahead of a potential outbreak, GPs will now invite children aged 1-9 for booster vaccines, alongside a wider catch-up campaign already announced. Immunization rates across London vary, but are on average below the 95% coverage rate the World Health Organization suggests is needed to keep polio under control. 

Polio, spread mainly through contamination by faecal matter, used to kill and paralyse thousands of children annually worldwide. There is no cure, but vaccination brought the world close to ending the wild, or naturally occurring, form of the disease. It paralyses less than 1% of children who are infected. 

The virus found in London sewage is mainly the vaccine-like virus, which is found when children vaccinated with a particular kind of live vaccine — now only used overseas — shed the virus in their feces. This harmless virus can transmit between unvaccinated children, and while doing so, can mutate back into a more dangerous version of the virus, and cause illness. 

Last month, the United States found a case of paralytic polio outside New York in an unvaccinated individual, its first for a decade. The UKHSA said the case was genetically linked to the virus seen in London.  

Britain is also expanding surveillance for polio to other sites outside London to see if the virus has spread further. The risk to the wider population is assessed as low because most people are vaccinated even if rates are below the optimal levels to prevent spread. 

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‘Hitting Rock Bottom’ – Drought, Heat Drain Spanish Reservoirs

A flock of sheep shelter from the midday sun under the gothic arches of a medieval bridge flooded in 1956 to create the Cijara reservoir in central Spain, but now fully exposed as the reservoir is 84% empty after a severe drought.

In Andalusia, one of Europe’s hottest and driest regions, paddle-boats and waterslides lie abandoned on the cracked bed of Vinuela reservoir, remnants of a rental business gone with the water, now at a critical level of 13%.

A nearby restaurant fears a similar fate.

“The situation is quite dramatic in the sense that it’s been several years without rain and we’re hitting rock bottom,” said owner Francisco Bazaga, 52. “If it doesn’t rain, unless they find some alternative water supply, the future is very, very dark.”

A prolonged dry spell and extreme heat made July the hottest month in Spain since at least 1961. Spanish reservoirs are at just 40% of capacity on average in early August, well below the ten-year average of around 60%, official data shows.

“We are in a particularly dry year, a very difficult year that confirms what climate change scenarios have been highlighting,” Energy Minister Teresa Ribera told a news conference on Monday, also highlighting that the drought was leading to devastating wildfires.

Climate change has left parts of the Iberian peninsula at their driest in 1,200 years, and winter rains are expected to diminish further, a study published last month by the Nature Geoscience journal showed.

The dry, hot weather is likely to continue into the autumn, Spain’s meteorological service AEMET said in a recent report, putting further strain on Europe’s largest network of dammed reservoirs with a holding capacity of 5.6 billion cubic meters.

At the Buendia reservoir east of Madrid, the ruins of a village and bathhouses have reappeared, caked in dried mud, Reuters drone footage showed, while at another dam near Barcelona a ninth-century Romanesque church has reemerged still intact, attracting visitors.

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US Moves Finland’s, Sweden’s Accession to NATO a Step Closer

The U.S. has completed its final step in ratifying NATO’s expansion to include Sweden and Finland. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports on the most significant expansion of the military alliance in more than two decades, which needs only seven more countries for completion

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VOA Interview: Lithuania President Gitanas Nauseda

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda discussed the challenges for his country caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year with VOA’s Eastern Europe Bureau Chief Myroslava Gongadze on Tuesday in Vilnius.

“Nothing less than democracy and the world order is at stake in that war,” Nauseda told VOA. “There is no limit for the appetite of Vladimir Putin. I don’t know who will be the next target, the Baltic countries, Poland, maybe Romania.”

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

VOA: Thank you very much for making time to talk to us. You had been to Ukraine on February 23rd, just before the war. At that moment, did you grasp the risk that Ukrainians are in? And did you expect that war would happen so soon?

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda: You know, this threat was in the air. And [Ukrainian] President [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy said that they expect[ed] that the war will, uh, break up in the next 24 to 48 hours. And it happened, let’s say, after eight or 10 hours, we left Ukrainian soil. Yes, the war was terrible, and probably our Ukrainian partners just could not imagine that this war will be organized, if I can express it like this, on such broad scale, broad, broad efforts of Russian troops to try to, first of all, to attack Kyiv, and also the war broke up in other parts of Ukraine, and now we see that this war is much longer than Russia could expect, fortunately. Yes, of course, I understand that it brings a lot of casualties, human lives are [at] stake, and of course, destroyed civil infrastructure. But this is also the fight for not only Ukrainian democracy and Ukrainian territorial integrity, but also the fight for democratic values at all. And this is very important to mention, that Ukraine is fighting very bravely, not only for its freedom but for our freedom, too.

VOA: What do you think Russia is doing? What is [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s goal?

Nauseda: I think Putin miscalculated the scenario of this war, the expectations were totally different. Putin expected that they will take over Ukrainian capital Kyiv in a few days, and this war will not bring any huge political and economic consequences on Russia. But we see that it turned out to be totally different. And what is very important to mention that, until the war, the reaction of European politicians, and other countries, too, was, how to say, subdued, if I could express it like this, because nobody expected that this war and the real attempts of Russia are so terrible, and they are ambitions to conquer Ukraine. And afterwards, in the first days of the war, I saw a big commitment and a totally different attitude of my colleagues in [the] European Union to act, to do something, in order first of all to stop the war. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen, but then we realized that if we had to do more in order to, first of all, to bring war to, yes, to bring on the table very clear consequences on Russia, and Russia must see what will be the consequences. So the first package of sanctions, second, third, fifth. And now we see that European politicians and the countries of European Union understand very well what are the threats posed by Russian authorities. It was not the case, because I remember our discussions in European Council, bilateral meetings. We try to convince our partners. …

VOA: Who is we? When you said we, who is we? Because I understand that your country, Poland, other countries. …

Nauseda: … Poland, Romania, all Eastern European countries, which are exposed to these threats very directly, and we hear very well and really, we listen what Putin is saying, because some. …

VOA: And Western European countries didn’t really realize and underestimated. …

Nauseda: Theoretically, maybe, but the real reactions, they’re not adequate to the rhetoric Putin allowed him to express all this time. And this is the reason why I think it’s very important to understand that Europe is different. Europe understands the threats much better. Of course, Europe is still dependent in many areas, for example, energy dependence. Still, this is a very hot issue. This is not the issue in my country. Lithuania implemented all necessary changes, spent a lot of money in order to change the infrastructure, to create the infrastructure, to be independent in energy field, and we did it. And now we can probably say that Lithuania is not dependent, and Lithuania stopped to buy Russian oil, Russian gas, Russian electricity, so they cannot do anything to us in this regard.

VOA: This dependency on energy resources built up in the last 20 years, specifically with Germany, with France, with other countries. Why do you think that such an underestimation of Russian threats was built and kind of persuaded in the minds of politicians in Western Europe?

Nauseda: I cannot reject the assumption that economic interests, first of all, are there. Money, profit, cheaper energy resources and possibilities to do business with. But another reason was assumptions that we have to deal with totally different kind of policy or politicians in Moscow. Because sometimes I think my colleagues thought that probably Putin is a little bit different, but okay, we can do business with him because we can negotiate. We can talk. We can try to convince, to bring our arguments. And he could not understand that the arguments do not play any role to him, because the main ideology with this regime is to conquer as much as possible, to expand, to find the neighbors we could attack, and this is very clear if you read what they are saying in Moscow, they try to rebuild their empire. They try to restore the Soviet Union in one or another shape. And as you mentioned, as you remember that Putin mentioned that the collapse of Soviet Union was the largest disaster of 20th century. And now they consequently and very logically try to reestablish Soviet Union, and this means not only the risk and threats to Ukraine. This means huge threats to all of us and this time maybe even to those countries which were not a part of former Soviet Union, the countries of Western Europe, too.

VOA: Your country was part of Soviet Union. Does your country feel safe in this environment? And do you think that NATO, your allies in NATO would come to defend you, fully? What is your readiness for the threats?

Nauseda: My response will be very simple. We feel safer as we are [from] 2004, because in 2004, Lithuania became the member of two very important organizations, European Union and NATO. I like to say this sentence and I repeated this sentence many times, European Union was for a better life, NATO was for life. And this is still valid, and this is very important. Yes, we strongly believe in Article 5, we strongly believe in the reassurances of our partners to defend each inch of our soil. But this does not mean that we cannot put additional efforts in order to improve our security, too. We did a lot in this country in order to modernize our army, modernize our military forces, to create better infrastructure to be able to accommodate additional troops from our NATO allies. And we increased our military spending up to 2.5 % of our GDP. And we are ready to provide even more financial resources in order to fulfill all the requirements, which could be adequate to the current situation, the geopolitical situation. And this is very important to mention that Lithuania feels safe, but we have to be aware of these risks because we have to deal with a very dangerous neighbor and the best proof is the situation in Ukraine.

VOA: What is at stake in Ukraine today?

Nauseda: Democracy, the world order… international security situation is [at] stake, and of course [it’s] very important to mention that there’s no limit for the appetite of Vladimir Putin. If they will be successful in Ukraine, they will be at our doors, too. And I don’t know who will be their next target, Baltic countries, maybe Poland, maybe Romania, but this is not the most important question. The most important issue is, we have to do or in the NATO format, in European Union format in order to prevent, to stop Putin. Putin has to finalize his operation, as he calls it, in Ukraine. And I hope very much that Ukraine will be successful, and we will stand together with Ukraine until the victory, of course until the victory of Ukraine. And nowadays we see a lot of assurances coming from Western European leaders, and also other leaders in the world that they are ready to provide military assistance to Ukraine. European Union is strongly committed to impose sanctions and to continue sanctions policy in the future. This is very important because so far, we did a lot, but this is not enough to stop Putin. And we have to realize it and to understand it, that we have to do more, especially military assistance, in the short-term military assistance probably this is the most important problem. In the longer run, there will be very important issues related to humanitarian aid, macroeconomic assistance and so on. But now we understand very well that their conflict will be solved, not sitting at the negotiation table. The conflict will be solved in the battlefield.

VOA: I want to ask you about the role of the United States, because they basically pushed this international coalition and they were warning Ukraine about the possible threats from Russia for a couple of months prior to the war. Do you think the United States is doing enough in this fight? And who do you think should be a leader of this push to stop Putin in the region?

Nauseda: I would expect United States should be the leader, but I would say that actually the United States is a leader in providing military assistance, political support, and this is very important. This is very important, but, of course, I would expect that the speed of the decision making, commitment to provide more assistance and … speed is probably the most important issue right now. Yes, we are talking about additional military equipment, lethal weapons and other equipment. But this is very important that Ukrainians need it today not tomorrow or after tomorrow. And each day brings a lot of casualties, as I mentioned, and people are suffering, destroyed cities and so on, and of course we have to stop it as soon as possible, and the United States’ role in this is crucial. The European Union plays also very important role, but I think we have to deal in solidarity, and we have to be solider and they see the solidarity right now, the United States, the European Union, also like-minded countries in Asia. I see this solidarity and they saw their solidarity in NATO summit in Madrid, where we took very important decisions, bold decisions on the NATO strengthening. Defining Russia as a long-term threat, also very important element of our conclusions in the Madrid summit, and for my country and for Eastern European region, there are very important decisions to mention, for example, forward defense status in [the] Eastern European region. Also brigade-size, -level support and military presence in my country. As you’ll know Germany is a leading country of EFP [Enhanced Forward Protection]. And this is very important to our people, especially probably to our people, to hear that our allies are ready to provide additional support to Lithuania, because security right now is even outpacing the importance of economic and social issues.

VOA: We established already that Russia broke international law and they’re trying to push all the boundaries and rules. However, Russia is still a member of the Security Council of the U.N. Russia has a veto position in the OECD [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development] organization and many other organizations. Do you think something has to be done with it?

Nauseda: Unfortunately, this is the reason why we have to find additional formats or maybe alternative formats to deal with Russia, because, yes, you mentioned that United Nations’ Security Council … Russia can create a lot of obstacles [there]. … And this is the reason why we have to find some other formats. I still believe the importance in the United Nations in other fields, for example, providing the channels or trying to solve the issue of grain export to the third countries and secretary-general [Antonio Guterres] put a lot of effort in order to solve this issue and probably in such formats, United Nations would be quite effective instrument to provide additional support to Ukraine. But we have to find also other formats, bilateral formats are important, too. I mentioned the European Union and I mentioned NATO, but bilateral support: Germany, France, the United States and even smaller-sized countries. This bilateral support is very important and I heard it from President Zelenskyy during my last visit in Kyiv, which was organized on the statehood day, as you know, Ukraine is celebrating the first time the statehood day. And it was very important to me to attend this event in Kyiv. I held the speech in Verkhovna Rada [parliament] and President Zelensky said to me, Lithuania did a lot and probably it is a good example to other countries. They can provide and they can be even more effective by providing needed support to Ukraine. But we are strongly committed, and this is not only the opinion or commitment of our political elite, this is a commitment of all people of Lithuania or almost all.

VOA: You are committed, Poland is committed. Germany is reluctant. How do you try and do you feel you are successful in persuading other countries to do more?

Nauseda: Maybe someone could be skeptical about the attitude or the German position in the last months, but I see huge progress. Because I couldn’t, I can compare the situation with the situation, let’s say, a few months ago as Germany was reluctant, really reluctant to provide any kind of lethal weapons to Ukraine. Now it’s not the case. Now we are talking about the speed of decision making and this is huge progress. And I think in the thinking we see this shift. The shift of thinking is also evident, and I think this is our contribution, too. We try to talk, we try to establish the needed dialogue with our colleagues in Germany and I think they react also to the public opinion, too, because public opinion is very clear, too. I remember my visit in Berlin at the end of February and I had the possibility to attend the meeting against the war in Ukraine on [February 26, two days after Russia invaded Ukraine]. I returned home and the next day, I heard that there was a meeting on [February 27], 100,000 people [in Germany were protesting], and on Saturday, maybe 500. So you see the dynamic in the public opinion in Germany and this is very important that people understand that they have to do this. Germany is not, how to say, free of threats imposed or posed by Russia. Germany is also the target. Like Lithuania, Romania or other countries of Eastern Europe.

VOA: How do you see this war end?

Nauseda: I do not see any other alternative, and we have to put all efforts in order to achieve the victory of Ukraine in this war, because all other scenarios would be very dark for Ukraine itself, for Lithuania and for the whole democratic world.

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Lithuania President Gitanas Nauseda Speaks to VOA

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda discussed the challenges for his country caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year with VOA’s Eastern Europe Bureau Chief Myroslava Gongadze on Tuesday in Vilnius.

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Explosions Rock Russian Air Base in Crimea

Powerful explosions erupted at a Russian air base in Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula on Tuesday, killing one person and wounding five others, authorities said, but the cause of the blasts was unknown.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said munitions blew up at the Saki base in the region seized by Russia in 2014, but it emphasized the installation had not been shelled.

There was no immediate comment from Ukrainian authorities, but there was widespread speculation on Ukrainian social networks that Kyiv’s forces had hit the base with long-range missiles. Sunbathers fled a nearby beach as huge clouds of smoke from the explosions rose over the horizon, while authorities sealed off the area around the base within a radius of five kilometers.

Ukraine’s forces have not attacked Crimea during Russia’s offensive, now in its sixth month, with officials in Moscow warning Ukraine that any attack on Crimea would trigger massive retaliation, including strikes on “decision-making centers” in Kyiv.

But a small-scale, makeshift drone hit the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in the Crimean port of Sevastopol last month, an attack blamed on Ukrainian saboteurs. The Saki base has been used by Russian warplanes to strike areas in Ukraine’s southern region.

Ukrainian officials said earlier Tuesday that in the last day at least three Ukrainian civilians were killed and 23 were wounded by Russian shelling, including an attack not far from the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

Dnipropetrovsk Gov. Valentyn Reznichenko said Russian forces fired more than 120 rockets at the town of Nikopol, which is across the Dnieper River from the nuclear facility. Several apartment buildings and industrial sites were damaged, he said.

In recent days, Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of shelling the power station, the biggest nuclear plant in Europe, and officials have been worrying about a nuclear catastrophe.

In his nightly video address Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy invoked the 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine, which at the time was a Soviet republic. He called for new sanctions against Russia, accusing it of risking another nuclear disaster with its shelling of the Zaporizhzhia plant. Russia has blamed Ukraine for the attacks on the complex.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Army’s General Staff said early Tuesday that a Russian offensive is continuing toward the hub cities of Bakhmut and Avdiyivka in the eastern Donetsk region as Moscow tries to inflict “maximum losses” on Ukrainian forces. 

Ukraine said the Russian Air Force was bombarding military facilities in the direction of Donetsk in support of artillery and other ground operations aimed at dislodging Ukrainian units from the front lines. 

British intelligence warned Monday that Russia was using anti-personnel mines in an effort to defend and hold its defense lines in the eastern Donbas region, with resulting risks to both the military and local civilian populations. 

But Kyiv’s military planners said their forces had repelled reconnaissance and offensive operations in a handful of settlements around Ivano-Daryivka, Bakhmut, and Zaitsevo. 

They said Russian forces had withdrawn after unsuccessful pushes around Avdiyivka and Krasnohorivka.  

 

Some information in this report came from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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WMO: July Is One of Warmest Months on Record

The World Meteorological Organization or WMO reports the month of July was one of the three warmest on record globally. This, despite a weak La Nina event, which is supposed to have a cooling influence.

Meteorologists warn the heatwave that swept through large parts of Europe last month is set to continue in August. They note July was drier than average in much of Europe, badly affecting local economies and agriculture, as well as increasing the risk of wildfires.

WMO Spokeswoman Clare Nullis says Britain’s Met Office has issued another advisory warning of a heat buildup throughout this week. However, she says temperatures are not expected to reach the extreme, record-setting temperatures of more than 40 degrees Celsius seen in July.

“But it is well above average. Temperatures in France this week, well above average. In Switzerland, many parts of Switzerland well above average. And as I said, continuing the trend that we saw in July, Spain saw its hottest ever month in July. So, not just the hottest July but the hottest ever month on record.”

Nullis says Europe and other parts of the world will have to get used to and adapt to the kind of heatwaves WMO’s Secretary-General Petteri Taalas calls “the new normal.”

While Europe was sweltering under extreme heat in July, WMO reports Antarctic Sea ice reached its lowest July level on record. This follows a record low Sea ice level in June. While Europe saw a lot of heat in July, Nullis notes big chunks of the Antarctic did as well.

“It is important to bear in mind there is quite a big sort of monthly and year-to-year variability in Antarctica. So, the fact that it was the lowest on record in June and in July does not mean necessarily that this is a long-term irreversible trend.”

WMO reports the long-lasting drought in parts of Europe also is set to continue. It warns below-normal precipitation in many parts of Europe will cause or worsen drought conditions and likely trigger more forest fires.

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American Motorcyclist Rides Deep Into Russia-Ukraine War’s Heart of Darkness

In what he calls his humanitarian voyage, American Neale Bayly has been riding his motorcycle around Ukraine — not only to see the sights, but also to bring attention to its war against Russia, and raise funds for the children he meets along the way. Omelyan Oshchudlyak has the story. VOA footage by Yuriy Dankevych.

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Volunteer Group Helps Bedridden People Evacuate From Eastern Ukraine

Over the past few months, a small team of dedicated volunteers have managed to evacuate more than 600 bedridden people from areas of heavy fighting in war-torn eastern regions of Ukraine. Omelyan Oshchudlyak has the story. VOA footage by Yuriy Dankevych.

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