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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10:24 p.m. ET, July 7, 2023

Our live coverage for the day has ended. Follow the latest Ukraine news here or read through the updates below.

7:23 p.m. ET, July 7, 2023

Turkish president looks to play a role in prisoner exchanges between Russia and Ukraine

From CNN's Mariya Knight and Radina Gigova

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attend a joint press conference at the Vahdettin Mansion on July 8, in Istanbul, Turkey.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attend a joint press conference at the Vahdettin Mansion on July 8, in Istanbul, Turkey. Ozan Guzelce/dia images/Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he discussed the plight of his country's prisoners of war in a meeting with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and the Turkish leader has vowed to discuss the same issue with Russia's President Vladimir Putin.

Zelensky said in a joint news conference early Saturday that POWs, along with political prisoners and deported children, had been a "key topic" of his talks with Erdoğan in Istanbul.

"For me and for President Erdoğan, human lives are a priority," Zelensky said, adding that the countries' partners "have the list of people, and we are actively working on this issue."

Erdoğan said he would look for common ground when he speaks with Russia's leader, including when they meet again in August.

“Particularly on prisoner swaps, we’ve listened to Ukraine. We are also listening to Russia. I spoke to Mr. Putin,” Erdoğan said. “Next month we will be able to speak about it again when Mr. Putin has a Turkey visit. We will speak about it on the phone until then. The prisoner exchanges are high on our agenda as well. We hope there will be a solution on this issue as well.”

CNN's Gul Tuysuz contributed reporting to this post from Istanbul.

6:36 p.m. ET, July 7, 2023

Turkey supports Ukraine's NATO membership, Zelensky says

From CNN's Mariya Knight and Radina Gigova

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he was "happy to hear" that Turkey supports Ukraine's bid to join the NATO alliance. 

Zelensky, who spoke alongside Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at a joint press conference in Istanbul, said the two leaders discussed "key issues of our work in the context of NATO, in particular preparing for a Vilnius summit."

Ukraine is expected to be at the top of the agenda of that meeting next week.

"I raised the question of Ukraine's membership in the NATO alliance and was happy to hear that the President [Erdoğan] supports Ukraine to be a NATO member," Zelensky said. 

Zelensky also said the two leaders talked about "the joint work in the military-industrial complex, development of technologies, drone manufacturing and other strategic directions."

"We made certain agreements," he said. "I asked Turkey to join into the efforts of rebuilding and transforming Ukraine, it is a colossal project, and we need Turkey’s experience and technology to help us."

Some context: Both Sweden and its neighbor Finland stated their intent to join NATO through its open-door policy in May last year, just weeks after Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Finland was accepted in April of this year, doubling the alliance’s border with Russia, but Sweden’s accession is currently being blocked by Turkey.

Turkey claims that Sweden allows members of recognized Kurdish terror groups to operate in Sweden, most notably the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). 

6:16 p.m. ET, July 7, 2023

Turkey is working on extending Black Sea grain deal that expires this month, president says

From CNN's Mariya Knight, Radina Gigova and Gul Tuysuz in Istanbul

Ukraine and Turkey's leaders say they are working to extend the Black Sea grain deal that expires later this month.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said early Saturday he discussed the issue with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Istanbul and emphasized the Black Sea should be an area of safety not of "so-called frozen conflicts."

Erdoğan said Turkey is working on extending the deal and that he will speak to Russian President Vladimir Putin about the matter.

The Turkish president said instead of renewing a year-long deal every two months, he is hopeful it could be put in place for a two-year period, with renewal every three months. The current deal expires on July 17.

"We have a common understanding that no one can tell our nations what to do in the Black Sea region that doesn’t coincide with our country’s and our people’s interests. Black Sea should be an area of safety, cooperation and not an area of war or any crises or so-called frozen conflicts that can ignite at any minute and strike and effect people’s lives," Zelensky said.

Erdoğan said after brokering the grain deal, about 33 million tons of grain were able to get to those who needed it in just one year.

“We have shown our solidarity with Ukraine through political, economic, humanitarian and technical help,” Erdoğan said.

6:04 p.m. ET, July 7, 2023

Zelensky says he believes Ukraine will regain control over Crimea

From CNN's Mariya Knight and Radina Gigova

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he believes his country will regain control over Crimea and thanked Turkey for supporting Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. 

"I’m grateful to Turkey for supporting our territorial integrity and sovereignty," Zelensky said while speaking alongside Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at a joint press conference in Istanbul early Saturday.

"We talked about the situation in Crimea that Russia still unlawfully controls and uses as a bridgehead of threats and danger. In any case, we will renew our control over Crimea," he said. 

Some background: Crimea was forcibly seized by Russia in 2014 and is home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which is based at Sevastopol. The peninsula has acted as a launching pad for the February invasion, with Russian troops pouring into Ukraine’s south from the annexed region.

When Russia completed its annexation of Crimea in a referendum, which was slammed by Ukraine and most of the world as illegitimate, it was at the time considered the biggest land grab on Europe since World War II.

During the war, the Ukrainian military has been carrying out attacks in Crimea with two goals: harass the Russian Black Sea fleet and disrupt vital Russian supply lines.

6:18 p.m. ET, July 7, 2023

Major diplomatic news dominated headlines on the war in Ukraine today. Here's what to know

From CNN staff

There's been a flurry of news away from the battlefield in Ukraine today, as Kyiv's allies prepare for a consequential NATO summit in Lithuania next week, and the United States enters uncharted territory with its latest contribution to Ukraine's fight against Russia.

If you're just catching up, here are some of the key headlines this evening:

Ukraine gets a controversial addition to its arsenal: The US will send cluster munitions to Ukraine as part of a new military aid package, officials confirmed. The decision follows months of debate within the Biden administration about whether to, for the first time, provide Kyiv with the controversial weapons banned by over 100 countries — including key US allies.

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. The US Defense Department defended its decision, in part, by emphasizing that it was providing only newer versions of the weapons which have lower "dud rates," meaning fewer bomblets go unexploded and pose a future threat.

Biden outlines his thought process: US President Joe Biden told CNN's Fareed Zakaria that it was a "difficult decision" to provide Ukraine with the cluster munitions, but that he was ultimately convinced to send the weapons because Kyiv is running out of ammunition in its counteroffensive against Russia. Moscow's success, he argued, poses an even greater threat than the controversial munitions.

"They either have the weapons to stop the Russians now — keep them from stopping the Ukrainian offensive through these areas — or they don’t. And I think they needed them,” said Biden, who told Zakaria he had deeply considered the issue and consulted allies.

World leaders gear up for the NATO summit: Key storylines to watch when the summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, kicks off Monday include Sweden's stalled accession to the alliance. It has been left behind even as Finland, which was also driven to abandon neutrality by Russia's war, joins NATO's ranks.

The US is trying to help Sweden clear its final hurdles to membership and address objections from Turkey. Ukraine's president, meanwhile, said Friday that a lack of unity on Sweden's accession threatens the alliance's strength.

Ukraine's own admission to NATO will not immediately result from the summit, a White House official said Friday, but the gathering will provide an opportunity to discuss its future accession and rally support for its war effort. There could also be consequential meetings on the Black Sea grain deal, a vital pact for addressing global hunger by ensuring safe shipments from Ukrainian ports.

4:19 p.m. ET, July 7, 2023

Exclusive: Biden explains why he made "difficult decision" to send Ukraine cluster munitions

From CNN's Jeremy Herb

US President Joe Biden told CNN's Fareed Zakaria Friday that it was a "difficult decision" to provide Ukraine with cluster munitions for the first time, but that he was ultimately convinced to send the controversial weapons because Kyiv needs ammunition in its counteroffensive against Russia.

The White House announced Friday that the president had approved the transfer of cluster munitions to Ukraine, the latest instance of the US has providing Kyiv with weapons it initially resisted sending into the war.

"It was a very difficult decision on my part. And by the way, I discussed this with our allies, I discussed this with our friends up on the Hill," Biden said, adding, "The Ukrainians are running out of ammunition." 

The cluster munitions that the US will send to Ukraine will be compatible with US-provided 155mm howitzers, a key piece of artillery that has allowed Ukraine to win back territory over the last year.

Biden told Zakaria that the cluster munitions were being sent as a "transition period" until the US is able to produce more 155mm artillery.

"This is a war relating to munitions. And they're running out of that ammunition, and we're low on it," Biden said. "And so, what I finally did, I took the recommendation of the Defense Department to — not permanently — but to allow for this transition period, while we get more 155 weapons, these shells, for the Ukrainians." 

There are more than 100 countries, including the UK, France and Germany, who have outlawed the munitions under the Convention on Cluster Munitions. But the US and Ukraine are not signatories to the ban.

Read more here.

The interview will air in full on "Fareed Zakaria GPS" at 10 a.m. ET on Sunday. 

4:16 p.m. ET, July 7, 2023

Pentagon cites "slower" Ukrainian counteroffensive as one reason for sending cluster munitions

From CNN's Michael Conte

The US Defense Department said that one of the primary reasons the US is providing cluster munitions to Ukraine is to help them punch through Russian defensive lines as the counteroffensive is "going a little slower than some had hoped."

"We want to make sure that the Ukrainians have sufficient artillery to keep them in the fight in the context of the current counteroffensive," said Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl at a news briefing. "And because things are going a little slower than some had hoped, there are very high expenditures of artillery."

Kahl said the munitions would be delivered to Ukraine "in a timeframe that is relevant for the counteroffensive."

Kahl also said the provisions of cluster munitions is also an important signal to Russia that “the Ukrainians are going to stay in the game.”

“(Russian President) Vladimir Putin has a theory of victory, OK? His theory of victory is that he will outlast everybody,” said Kahl. “That's why President (Joe) Biden has been clear that we're going to be with Ukraine as long as it takes, and why we are signaling that we will continue to provide Ukraine with the capabilities that will keep them in the fight.”

In response to the humanitarian concerns around cluster munitions, Kahl said that "the worst thing for civilians in Ukraine is for Russia to win the war, and so it's important that they don't."

Status of the counteroffensive: The Ukrainian military has so far failed to yield major gains in the early phases of its counteroffensive, documenting incremental advances on the front lines.

But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said he wanted to be strategic about where troops are being sent.

“Every meter, every kilometer costs lives,” he said earlier this month. “You can do something really fast, but the field is mined to the ground. People are our treasure. That’s why we are very careful.”

Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley has also said that the pace is not surprising, given that Russia has had time to bolster its defenses and "Ukrainian soldiers are assaulting through minefields and into trenches."

"So yes, sure, it goes a little slow, but that is part of the nature of war," Milley said.

CNN's Ivana Kottasová contributed reporting to this post.

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.