July 8, 2023 Russia-Ukraine news

By Christian Edwards, Adrienne Vogt, Laura Smith-Spark and Matt Meyer, CNN

Updated 5:38 p.m. ET, July 8, 2023
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8:02 a.m. ET, July 8, 2023

Zelensky honors Snake Island defenders on 500th day of Russia's invasion of Ukraine

From CNN’s Maria Kostenko in Kyiv and Teele Rebane in Hong Kong

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a joint press conference with leaders of African countries on June 16, 2023 in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a joint press conference with leaders of African countries on June 16, 2023 in Kyiv, Ukraine. Vitalii Nosach/Global Images Ukraine/Getty Images/FILE

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky honored the defenders of Snake Island in a Telegram post commemorating the 500th day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Saturday.

Snake Island, a Ukrainian island in the Black Sea, became famous when, on the first day of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, a Ukrainian soldier on the island delivered a message to the approaching Russian navy:

“Russian warship, go f*** yourself,” said the soldier.

The soldier’s brave defiance became an early symbol of Ukrainian resistance, at a time when many expected Russia’s military to overwhelm Ukraine’s and deliver a swift victory for Moscow.

The video post was published on Saturday morning but it is unclear when it was filmed.

“Snake Island. The free island of free Ukraine. I am grateful to everyone who fought here against the occupiers. We commemorated the heroes who gave their lives in this battle – one of the most important during the full-scale war,” Zelensky said in the post.
4:12 a.m. ET, July 8, 2023

Agricultural facility hit in overnight drone attack on Kryvyi Rih, says regional official

From CNN's Maria Kostenko in Kyiv

An agricultural production facility in the central Ukrainian city of Kryvyi Rih was hit overnight in a drone strike, said the head of Dnipropetrovsk region military administration, Serhii Lysak.

The attack hospitalized one man, who is in a moderate condition, according to Lysak.

Two fires broke out, several warehouses were destroyed, and equipment and vehicles were damaged in the attack, Lysak said.

There were no other attacks on Kryvyi Rih and Nikopol districts, head of Kryvyi Rih city military administration Oleksandr Vilkul said.

Kryvyi Rih is the hometown of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

9:14 a.m. ET, July 8, 2023

Turkish president says Ukraine deserves to become NATO member

From CNN’s Gul Tuysuz, Radina Gigova and Mariya Knight

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announces new cabinet during a press conference in Ankara, Turkey on June 3, 2023.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announces new cabinet during a press conference in Ankara, Turkey on June 3, 2023. Umit Bektas/Reuters/FILE

Ukraine deserves to have NATO membership, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, following talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that Russia said it was closely watching.

Zelensky spent this week visiting NATO countries, courting support ahead of a NATO summit in Lithuania beginning on Tuesday, where members are expected to reaffirm that Ukraine will eventually join.

“Without a doubt, Ukraine deserves to be in NATO,” Erdogan said.

Zelensky said he was “happy to hear” that Turkey supports Ukraine’s bid to join during a joint press conference.

While visiting the Czech Republic this week Zelensky said that he needs “a clear signal that Ukraine will be in the alliance. Not that the door is open for us, which is not enough, but that Ukraine will be in it,” he said Thursday.

NATO has an open-door policy, meaning that any country can be invited to join if it expresses an interest, as long as it is able and willing to uphold the principles of the alliance’s founding treaty. However, under the accession rules, any member state can veto a new country from joining.

Some allies, particularly those in Eastern Europe who are located closer to Ukraine and Russia, have advocated for a more concrete path for Kyiv to join the defensive alliance once the war ends.

Other officials have argued that expediting Ukraine’s NATO membership could be too provocative, and harbor major doubts about admitting a country to the alliance while it is still at war.

Read the full story here.

9:12 a.m. ET, July 8, 2023

Ukrainian president discusses NATO membership with Turkey's Erdogan ahead of consequential summit

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 Erdogan at a joint news 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 (Erdogan) 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).

12:11 p.m. ET, July 8, 2023

Here's what happened Friday in the key storylines surrounding Russia's war in Ukraine

From CNN staff

There's been a flurry of news away from the battlefield in Ukraine, as Kyiv's allies prepare for a consequential NATO summit in Lithuania in the coming days, 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 from Friday:

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.

3:36 a.m. ET, July 8, 2023

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

From CNN's Jeremy Herb

President Joe Biden speaks with CNN's Fareed Zakaria during a televised interview inside the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, on Friday, July 7, 2023.
President Joe Biden speaks with CNN's Fareed Zakaria during a televised interview inside the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, on Friday, July 7, 2023. Tom Brenner for CNN

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. 

3:35 a.m. ET, July 8, 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.

9:10 a.m. ET, July 8, 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.

3:35 a.m. ET, July 8, 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.