July 7, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Rob Picheta, Ed Upright, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Matt Meyer, Elise Hammond and Amir Vera, CNN

Updated 3:32 a.m. ET, July 8, 2023
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3:43 p.m. ET, July 7, 2023

NATO summit is a "milestone" but will not yet result in Ukraine's membership, White House official says

From CNN's Betsy Klein

Ukraine will not be joining NATO as a member country following next week’s summit, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan confirmed in a news conference Friday.

While that statement was widely expected, observers will be closely watching for any tangible steps Ukraine can take toward membership. 

“Ukraine will not be joining NATO coming out of this summit. We will discuss what steps are necessary as it continues along this path,” Sullivan said. 

Kyiv has long sought to join the alliance, though Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has acknowledged his country's membership would have to wait until the war with Russia is finished.

Sullivan reiterated the current “open door policy” that will allow Ukraine and NATO to make a decision together, saying that the summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, “will be an important moment on that pathway toward membership,” as it will provide an opportunity for members “to discuss the reforms that are still necessary for Ukraine to come up to NATO standards.”

Sullivan called the summit a “milestone,” but added that Ukraine “still has further steps it needs to take before membership.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Friday that he expects leaders at the summit to "reaffirm" that Ukraine will — eventually — become a member.

Sweden's stalled bid for membership: In addition to Ukraine, the military alliance gathering is expected to feature discussion of Sweden's stalled accession, including concessions it has made in response to Turkey's objections.

The White House national security adviser said the US continues to back Sweden's bid and said he believes the process will get done relatively soon.

"We are confident that Sweden will come in (to NATO) in the not-too-distant future, and there will be unanimous support for that," Sullivan said.

4:22 p.m. ET, July 7, 2023

Cluster munitions going to Ukraine have low "dud rates" and will help maintain ammo supply, Pentagon says

From CNN's Haley Britzky and Michael Conte

The US Defense Department defended the decision to send controversial Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions (DPICMs), also known as cluster munitions, to Ukraine, citing the lower failure rates of the weapons than the Russian versions, as well as Ukraine’s commitment to "responsible use" of them.

“The Ukrainian government has offered us assurances in writing on the responsible use of DPICM’s, including that they will not use the rounds in civilian populated urban environments, and that they will record where they use these rounds, which will simplify later de-mining efforts,” said Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl at a press briefing.

Kahl said he discussed the issue with Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov, and the US will increase its support to Ukraine’s "post-conflict de-mining efforts" on top of the $95 million already committed.

Providing cluster munitions to Ukraine will "ensure that the Ukrainian military has sufficient artillery ammunition for many months to come," Kahl added.

Kahl reiterated the US is not providing older cluster munition variants with high "dud rates." 

“Many of those studies that have been referenced, at least the ones that I've seen in the press, were based on testing completed in the 1980s,” he said. “And many of the DPICMs of those variants have since been demilitarized. We're not providing those variants of DPICMs to Ukraine. Instead, we'll be providing our most modern DPICMs with dud rates assessed to be under 2.35%, demonstrated through five comprehensive tests conducted by the Department of Defense between 1998 and 2020.”

Cluster munitions are banned by more than 100 countries, not including the US and Ukraine, because they scatter “bomblets” across large areas that can fail to explode on impact and can pose a long-term risk to anyone who encounters them, similar to landmines.

4:14 p.m. ET, July 7, 2023

Pentagon announces it is sending cluster munitions to Ukraine in latest equipment drawdown

From CNN's Haley Britzky

The Pentagon building in Arlington, Virginia, on April 21.
The Pentagon building in Arlington, Virginia, on April 21. Tom Brenner/Bloomberg/Getty Images

US President Joe Biden's administration officially announced it was sending cluster munitions to Ukraine as part of the 42nd drawdown of equipment from the Defense Department. 

A release on Friday said the administration was providing "additional artillery systems and ammunition, including highly effective and reliable dual-purpose improved conventional munitions (DPICM), on which the Administration conducted extensive consultations with Congress and our Allies and partners."

In separate statement, Biden said he had formally directed the drawdown of up to $800 million in defense articles and services to provide assistance to Ukraine. 

In total, the US has provided more than $41.3 billion in security aid to Ukraine since Russia’s full-scale invasion began last year.

Kyiv issues thanks: Ukraine is grateful for the "timely, broad and much-needed" defense package, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Friday.

In a message on Twitter, Zelensky praised the US for taking "decisive steps that bring Ukraine closer to victory over the enemy, and democracy to victory over dictatorship."

"The expansion of Ukraine's defense capabilities will provide new tools for the de-occupation of our land and bringing peace closer," he said. 

CNN's Allie Malloy, Victoria Butenko and Radina Gigova contributed reporting to this post.

3:50 p.m. ET, July 7, 2023

Zelensky says he discussed grain deal, NATO summit and peace formula with Turkish counterpart

From CNN's Radina Gigova and Mariya Knight 

Urainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he had a "busy day" in Turkey as he met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul on Friday. 

The two leaders discussed "coordination of positions" on Ukraine's peace formula, the upcoming NATO summit in Lithuania, security guarantees, the Black Sea grain initiative, reconstruction, as well as defense contracts, Zelensky said on his social media accounts. 

"Security – both in our Black Sea region and Europe in general. I am grateful for the support of Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty. Peace Formula. Protection of our countries, our people and our interests. Attention to the summit in Vilnius, which is being prepared," according to a message on Zelensky's Telegram

"We will separately discuss the protection and development of the Black Sea Grain Initiative and further efforts for food security. The world must be protected from any kind of terror," he added.

More background on the Black Sea grain deal: The agreement, which is considered vital for world food security, is expiring in just 10 days. It was first brokered by Turkey and the United Nations in July 2022 and again extended in May for two months.

After invading Ukraine in February 2022, Russia blockaded vital grain exports from key Ukrainian Black Sea ports, which meant that millions of tons of Ukrainian grain were not being exported to the many countries that rely on it. The impact of the war on global food markets was immediate and extremely painful, as Ukraine accounts for 10% of the world wheat market, 15% of the corn market and 13% of the barley market.

Russia recently signaled it was not open to extending the deal again, with the country's foreign ministry this week saying it "has turned into a purely commercial export of Ukrainian food to 'well-fed' countries."

3:07 p.m. ET, July 7, 2023

Western officials haven't seen signs of Wagner or nukes in Belarus, but are monitoring ahead of NATO summit

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand and Kylie Atwood

In the wake of the attempted uprising by Wagner Group forces in Russia, the US and Europe have turned their gaze to an increasingly unpredictable Belarus – a key Russian ally that Western officials fear could give the exiled mercenary troops a new home and serve as a staging ground for Russian nuclear weapons.

But so far, US and European officials have not seen clear signs that either scenario is unfolding. While officials are closely monitoring an apparent military camp that sprung up outside of Minsk following the rebellion in southern Russia, Wagner troops do not appear to have moved into the country en masse.

“It could happen that Wagner PMC decides not to relocate here,” Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said on Thursday. Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin is not even in Belarus, Lukashenko told CNN – he is in Russia, Lukashenko claimed.

And while Russian President Vladimir Putin said last month that the facilities in Belarus necessary to store the tactical nuclear weapons would be ready by July 7, Western officials have seen no signs of that, either. Belarus still does not appear to have the proper infrastructure to house the weapons, officials said, and it will likely be months, if not longer, before doing so is even technically feasible.

Available satellite imagery has also not shown any signs of the kind of preparations and security that would be standard at a Russian nuclear facility. Russia has the world’s largest arsenal of nuclear weapons, with 4,477 deployed and reserve nuclear warheads, including around 1,900 tactical nuclear weapons, according to the Federation of American Scientists. It is not clear how many of those Russia is potentially planning to deploy to Belarus.

“We are in this fog of Russian mirrors. What actions will Putin take? We don’t know,” said Max Bergmann, the director of Russian and European studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“Putin does not need tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus to use those weapons,” Bergmann added. “But it is concerning to the US that tactical nuclear weapons could potentially be co-located in Belarus with Wagner fighters. That said, it seems there is a long way to go before we would even get there.”

Still, Lukashenko’s close relationship with Putin, and the unexpected role he played in quelling the Wagner rebellion, has left intelligence analysts vigilant about what could come next and is a key topic of discussion among NATO allies ahead of next week’s leaders summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. And some US officials are also concerned that Putin could make an announcement related to Russia’s presence in Belarus during the summit.

Read more here.

3:49 p.m. ET, July 7, 2023

Biden's national security adviser explains US decision to send cluster munitions to Ukraine

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan speaks at a press conference on July 7.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan speaks at a press conference on July 7. Reuters

National Security adviser Jake Sullivan explained the rationale behind the United States' decision to supply cluster munitions to Ukraine, telling reporters Friday that President Joe Biden's administration had deferred making the call "as long as we could."

Sullivan said that while the US recognizes that there is risk of civilian harm from unexploded ordinates, there is also a massive risk if Russia takes "more Ukrainian territory and subjugate more Ukrainian civilians because Ukraine doesn't have enough artillery."

"That is intolerable to us. Ukraine would not be using these munitions in some foreign land. This is their country they're defending. These are their citizens they're protecting. They are motivated to use any weapon system they have in a way that minimizes risks to those citizens," Sullivan said.

In making the decision, Sullivan said that first, the US bases its security assistance decisions on Ukraine's needs on the ground. "Ukraine needs artillery to sustain its offensive and defensive operations. Artillery is at the core of this conflict," he explained.

"We will not leave Ukraine defenseless at any point in this conflict, period," he said.

Second, he pointed to Russia's use of cluster munitions since it began its invasion. "Russia has been using cluster munitions with high dud or failure rates of between 30% and 40%. In this environment," Sullivan said, noting US cluster munitions "would provide have dud rates far below what Russia is providing — not higher than 2.5%"

Finally, Sullivan said that the US is working closely with Ukraine on its request for cluster munitions since it will require post-conflict demining to protect civilians from harm. "This will be necessary regardless of whether the United States provides these munitions or not because of Russia's widespread use of cluster munitions," Sullivan said.

Sullivan said the formal announcement on the new aid package would come from the Pentagon. 

More on the weapons: Cluster munitions scatter “bomblets” across large areas that can fail to explode on impact and can pose a long-term risk to anyone who encounters them, similar to landmines. Over 100 countries, including the UK, France, and Germany, have outlawed the munitions under the Convention on Cluster Munitions, but the US and Ukraine are not signatories to the ban.

CNN's Natasha Bertrand and Allie Malloy contributed reporting to this post.

2:41 p.m. ET, July 7, 2023

US consulted with allies on decision to send cluster munition to Ukraine, national security adviser says

The United States consulted several allies when weighing the decision to send cluster munitions to Ukraine, according to National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.

This included talking to allies that are signatories of the Convention of Cluster Munitions, an international treaty that does not allow for the production or distribution of the controversial weapons, Sullivan said.

"While they cannot formally support something that they've signed up to a convention against, have indicated both privately, and many of them publicly over the course of today, that they understand our decision and, fundamentally, that they recognize the difference between Russia using its cluster munitions to attack Ukraine and Ukraine using cluster munitions to defend itself, its citizens and its sovereign territory," he said Friday.

Sullivan said other allies that are not signatories of the convention have embraced the US's decision "with open arms."

"So we feel that this will in no way disrupt the very strong, firm unity that we have heading into the NATO summit in Vilnius next week," he said.

3:45 p.m. ET, July 7, 2023

US and Russia have continued high-level discussions about detained Americans, national security adviser says

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt and DJ Judd

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan speaks at a press conference on July 7.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan speaks at a press conference on July 7. Reuters

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said that the United States has been in contact "at high levels" with Russia regarding detained Americans, including Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich.

"We did see the comments from the Kremlin that there have been contacts between the US And Russia regarding Evan and other unjustly detained Americans. It is true, and we have said that we remain in contact with Russian authorities at high levels on these cases to try to figure out a way to bring unjustly detained Americans home, including Evan," he said during the White House press briefing Friday.

"I do not want to give false hope," Sullivan added. "What the Kremlin said earlier this week is correct, there have been discussions. But those discussions have not produced a clear pathway to a resolution."

Gershkovich faces up to 20 years in jail on espionage charges, which he and his employer vehemently contest.

Friday marks the 100th day of Gershkovich's detention, and Sullivan said he met with members of his employers and family Friday morning.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre also told reporters President Joe Biden has “no higher priority,” than securing the freedom of Gershkovich, Paul Whelan and others.

“The world knows that the charges against Evan are baseless — he was arrested in Russia during the course of simply doing his job as a journalist, and he is being held by Russia for leverage because he is an American,” Jean-Pierre said during the press briefing. “The president has been very clear that we have no higher priority than securing the release of Evan, Paul Whelan and all Americans wrongfully detained abroad.”

“The team continues to work on these cases every day from all angles,” Jean-Pierre told reporters Friday. “Our message to Evan and to Paul is this: Keep the faith. We won't stop until you are home.”

Earlier this week, the US ambassador to Russia has met with Gershkovich, according to the Wall Street Journal. Last month, a Russian court upheld his extended detention in a Moscow prison until at least the end of August. The US State Department has officially designated Gershkovich as wrongfully detained in Russia. Biden has also been blunt about Gershkovich’s arrest, urging Russia to "let him go."

3:34 p.m. ET, July 7, 2023

Biden will demonstrate support for Ukraine at NATO summit and in major address afterward, adviser says

President Joe Biden speaks about his economic plan at the Flex LTD manufacturing plant on July 6 in West Columbia, South Carolina.
President Joe Biden speaks about his economic plan at the Flex LTD manufacturing plant on July 6 in West Columbia, South Carolina. Sean Rayford/Getty Images

US President Joe Biden embarks on a weeklong trip to Europe Sunday, and the stakes couldn’t be higher for the future of the NATO alliance.

Biden and the allies he meets at next week's NATO summit will demonstrate their "unity and resolve" in support of Ukraine, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a news briefing Friday.

Sullivan touted the United States' leadership within the military alliance, saying "NATO is stronger, more energized, and more united than ever," and voiced US support for the addition of Finland, as well as for Sweden, if it clears its final hurdles.

Russian President Vladimir Putin expected Western unity to fracture and that NATO would break in the face of his invasion of Ukraine, the security adviser said. Instead, Sullivan argued, the opposite has happened.

"We continue to stand with the people of Ukraine as they defend their sovereignty, their freedom and their democracy," Sullivan said.

More on Biden's big trip abroad: Biden will make a stop in London to meet with King Charles and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak before heading to the summit in Vilnius, Sullivan said.

Once in Lithuania, Biden will hold a bilateral meeting with the country's president, Gitanas Nausėda, and attend critical sessions at the NATO summit.

After his time at the summit, Biden will give a "significant address" in Vilnius next Wednesday evening about his vision for the US and its role in Ukraine and on other global issues, Sullivan said.

Then he will head to Helsinki, Finland, Sullivan said. Biden will meet with Nordic leaders and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, who just saw his government's NATO accession double the alliance's border with Russia in a blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

CNN's Betsy Klein contributed reporting to this post.