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.

«На Харківському напрямку загарбники 13 разів атакували оборонні рубежі українських підрозділів поблизу Вовчанська та Глибокого. Сили оборони відбили 10 атак, ще три наразі тривають»

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.

SYDNEY — Russia has accused Australia of inciting “anti-Russian paranoia” for charging a Russian-born couple with espionage, the Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) reported Saturday.

The married couple, who hold Australian citizenship, were arrested on charges of working to access material related to Australia’s national security, though no significant compromise had been identified, the Australian Federal Police said on Friday.

The woman, 40, an information systems technician in the Australian Army, traveled to Russia and instructed her husband in Australia to log into her official account to access defense materials, police said.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, speaking to reporters on Friday, warned that “people will be held to account who interfere with our national interests and that’s precisely what these arrests represent.”

Russia’s embassy in the capital, Canberra, said a press conference by Australian authorities on Friday about the arrests “was clearly intended to launch another wave of anti-Russian paranoia in Australia,” the ABC said, citing an embassy statement.

The embassy requested written information from the Australian authorities on the couple’s situation and was considering “appropriate measures of consular assistance,” the ABC reported.

The embassy did not immediately respond to Reuters request for comment.

On Friday, Igor and Kira Korolev appeared in the magistrate’s court in Brisbane, court filings show, 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 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.

Australia, one of the largest non-NATO contributors to the West’s support for Ukraine since Russia’s 2022 invasion, announced a A$250 million ($170 million) military aid package for Kyiv on Thursday at a NATO summit in Washington.

Canberra has been supplying defense equipment to Kyiv, banned exports of aluminum ores to Russia and sanctioned more than 1,000 Russian individuals and entities.

seoul, south korea — North Korea has denounced a declaration at a recent NATO summit that condemned Pyongyang’s weapons exports to Russia, calling the document “illegal,” state media said Saturday.

In a joint declaration this week, NATO leaders condemned North Korea for “fueling Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine,” by “providing direct military support” to Moscow.

NATO leaders also voiced “profound concern” over China’s industrial support to Russia.

Pyongyang has repeatedly denied allegations that it is shipping weapons to Moscow, but in June leader Kim Jong Un and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin signed an agreement that included a pledge to come to each other’s military aid if attacked.

Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency reported Saturday that the foreign ministry “most strongly denounces and rejects” the NATO declaration.

Citing a ministry spokesman, the agency said the declaration “incites new Cold War and military confrontation on a global scale,” and requires “a new force and mode of counteraction.”

On the sidelines of the NATO summit, Seoul and Washington this week also signed guidelines on an integrated system of deterrence for the Korean peninsula to counter North Korea’s nuclear and military threats.

South Korea’s presidential office said Seoul and Washington will carry out joint military drills to help implement the newly announced guidelines, which formalize the deployment of U.S. nuclear assets on and around the Korean peninsula to deter and respond to potential nuclear attacks by Pyongyang.

Relations between the two Koreas are at one of their lowest points in years, with Pyongyang ramping up weapons testing as it draws closer to Russia.

After Pyongyang sent multiple barrages of trash-carrying balloons across the border, Seoul last month fully suspended a tension-reducing military deal and resumed live-fire drills on border islands and by the demilitarized zone that divides the Korean peninsula.

Відповідні законодавчі норми російська влада схвалила раніше. Восени має запрацювати електронний реєстр повісток, із запуском якого має автоматично розпочатися дія обмежень

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.” 

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — An oil tanker held by Iran for over a year after being seized amid tensions between Tehran and the United States was sailing Thursday toward international waters, tracking data showed.

The Marshall Islands-flagged tanker Advantage Sweet traveled toward the Strait of Hormuz, where it was seized in April 2023 by Iran’s navy while carrying $50 million worth of oil from Kuwait for Chevron Corporation. That’s according to tracking data analyzed by The Associated Press, which also listed the vessel’s destination at Khor Fakkan in the United Arab Emirates, which has been the first port of call for other vessels leaving Iranian detention.

Iran did not acknowledge the ship’s departure. It came after an Iranian court on Thursday ordered the U.S. government to pay over $6.7 billion in compensation over a Swedish company stopping its supply of special dressings and bandages for those afflicted by a rare skin disorder after Washington imposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Iran’s government initially said it seized the Advantage Sweet because it hit another vessel, a claim not supported by any evidence. Then Iranian officials linked the Advantage Sweet’s seizure to the court case that was decided Thursday.

A report by the state-run IRNA news agency described the $6.7 billion order as being filed on behalf of 300 plaintiffs, including family members of victims and those physically and emotionally damaged. IRNA said about 20 patients died after the Swedish company’s decision.

Epidermolysis bullosa is a rare genetic condition that causes blisters all over the body and eyes. It can be incredibly painful and kill those afflicted. The young who suffer from the disease are known as “butterfly children” as their skin can appear as fragile as a butterfly’s wing.

The order comes as U.S. judges have issued rulings that call for billions of dollars to be paid by Iran over attacks linked to Tehran, as well as those detained by Iran and used as pawns in negotiations between the countries — something Iran has responded to with competing lawsuits accusing the U.S. of involvement in a 2017 Islamic State group attack. The United Nations’ highest court also last year rejected Tehran’s legal bid to free up some $2 billion in Iranian Central Bank assets frozen by U.S. authorities.

In 2018, then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the U.S. from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, apparently sparking the Swedish company to withdraw from the Iranian market. Iran now says it locally produces the bandages.

Chevron, based in San Ramon, California, has maintained that the Advantage Sweet was “seized under false pretenses.” It has since written off the cargo as a loss.

The U.S. Navy has blamed Iran for a series of limpet mine attacks on vessels that damaged tankers in 2019, as well as for a fatal drone attack on an Israeli-linked oil tanker that killed two European crew members in 2021.

Tehran denies carrying out the attacks, but a wider shadow war between Iran and the West has played out in the region’s volatile waters. Iranian tanker seizures have been a part of it since 2019. The last major seizure came when Iran took two Greek tankers in May 2022 and held them until November of that year.

Paris — A fire broke out Thursday in the spire of the medieval cathedral in Rouen, a major landmark in northern France that was under renovation, but authorities said it was quickly brought under control.

Witnesses told French television they saw smoke emanating from the spire just after midday, and recalled a devastating fire in 2019 at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris that toppled its spire and collapsed its roof.

Rouen’s 12th century cathedral, which is considered to be a Gothic masterpiece, is widely beloved, not least because of a series of paintings by impressionist Claude Monet capturing its asymmetrical western facade. It is also the tallest church in France, and among the tallest cathedrals in the entire world — and renowned for its three towers, each constructed in a different style.

Mayor Nicolas Mayer-Rossignol first posted on the social media platform X around midday that “the beginning of a fire is underway on the spire of the cathedral of Rouen.”

Less than 90 minutes later, Stephane Gouezec, of the Seine-Maritime firefighters, said the source of the blaze had been located — some 120 meters (some 400 feet) high — and the fire contained. Crews were working to ensure there were no remaining “hot spots,” he added.

But he told reporters the risk of the flames spreading was low because the fire was in an area where there was mostly metal.

Gouezec said construction workers were the first to notice the fire and alerted authorities.

The cathedral had been evacuated and a security perimeter put in place, according to regional officials.

Witnesses in Rouen were jittery since the memory of Paris’ Notre Dame blaze is still etched in the national consciousness. It caught fire five years ago, also while under renovation, and is scheduled to reopen in December after an unprecedented reconstruction effort. The cause of that fire was deemed an accident.

«Експосадовець виїздив за межі України у 2022-2023 році під виглядом особи, що начебто постраждала внаслідок російської агресії»

WASHINGTON — NATO and Ukrainian leaders are to meet Thursday in Washington, a day after NATO allies bolstered support for Ukraine to join the alliance.

The NATO summit’s final day will also include talks with leaders from Australia, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and the European Union addressing security challenges and cooperation.

A NATO communique released by the 32-member bloc Wednesday said Ukraine’s path to NATO membership is “irreversible.”

“It’s not a question of if, but when,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters Wednesday.

The United States was once deeply concerned about whether Ukraine was ready for NATO membership but now appears resolved to ensure Kyiv eventually joins the alliance.

“We’re providing that bridge to membership for Ukraine. It’s really a significant deliverable,” Michael Carpenter, the senior director for Europe at the National Security Council, told VOA.

Stoltenberg said that when fighting stops in Ukraine, NATO will need to ensure that halt will be the final end to violence there.

The way to ensure it stops for good, Stoltenberg said, is NATO membership for Ukraine. Otherwise, he said, Russia could continue its aggression.

Unlike the European Union, which began negotiations with Ukraine to join its ranks on June 25, there is no consensus yet about Ukraine joining NATO.

F-16 transfer under way

Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the first American-made F-16 fighter jets are currently being delivered to Ukraine and are expected to patrol Ukrainian skies in coming weeks.

“The transfer of F-16s is officially under way, and Ukraine will be flying F-16s this summer,” he said at the summit.

In a statement Wednesday, Dutch Prime Minister Dick Schoof, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and U.S. President Joe Biden announced that the Dutch and Danish governments were providing the F-16s, while Belgium and Norway had committed to send more aircraft to Ukraine.

NATO member heads of state held their first working session of the summit Wednesday as they sought to boost the alliance’s support for Ukraine and enhance their own defense and deterrence efforts.

At the start of the session, Biden said Russia was ramping up its defense production with Chinese, North Korean and Iranian help.

To counter their efforts, he said, NATO members must continue to invest more in defense production.

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

China called out

In the NATO communique, all 32 allies on Wednesday also called on China to cease its support for Russia’s war effort against Kyiv, including its transfer of dual-use materials, such as weapons components, equipment and raw materials that aid Russia’s defense sector.

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

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

A spokesperson for China’s mission to the European Union rejected the NATO statement, calling it “filled with Cold War mentality and belligerent rhetoric.”

NATO allies invited Indo-Pacific partners from Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand to also attend this week’s summit. Officials say their inclusion reflects their importance during growing Chinese, North Korean, Russian and Iranian aggression.

Iulia Iarmolenko contributed to this report. Some information for this report was provided by Reuters