July 11, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Jessie Yeung, Christian Edwards, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Adrienne Vogt, Aditi Sangal, Maureen Chowdhury, Elise Hammond and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, July 12, 2023
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6:47 a.m. ET, July 11, 2023

Zelensky: "Uncertainty" over Ukraine's NATO membership is motivation for Russia to "continue its terror"

From CNN's Chris Liakos and Radina Gigova

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attends a press conference in Istanbul, Turkey, on July 8.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attends a press conference in Istanbul, Turkey, on July 8. Umit Bektas/Reuters

The "uncertainty" over Ukraine's NATO membership is motivation for Russia to "continue its terror," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a strongly worded statement Tuesday on his official Twitter account. 

"We value our allies. We value our shared security. And we always appreciate an open conversation. Ukraine will be represented at the NATO summit in Vilnius. Because it is about respect," Zelensky said in a lengthy message posted in English. 

"But Ukraine also deserves respect. Now, on the way to Vilnius, we received signals that certain wording is being discussed without Ukraine. And I would like to emphasize that this wording is about the invitation to become NATO member, not about Ukraine's membership," he said. 

Zelensky is set to attend meetings with NATO leaders Wednesday in Vilnius, Lithuania.

"It’s unprecedented and absurd when time frame is not set neither for the invitation nor for Ukraine's membership. While at the same time vague wording about 'conditions' is added even for inviting Ukraine," Zelensky said. 

"It seems there is no readiness neither to invite Ukraine to NATO nor to make it a member of the Alliance. This means that a window of opportunity is being left to bargain Ukraine's membership in NATO in negotiations with Russia. And for Russia, this means motivation to continue its terror," he added. 

"Uncertainty is weakness. And I will openly discuss this at the summit," Zelensky said.

6:40 a.m. ET, July 11, 2023

Germany pledges $770 million weapons package to Ukraine

From CNN's Inke Kappeler in Berlin and Zahid Mahmood in London

Germany has pledged to send Ukraine a weapons and military package worth €700 million ($769.9 million), according to the country's Ministry of Defense on Tuesday.

In the statement, the German defense ministry said some of the equipment they would be delivering include two patriot launchers and 40 Marder infantry fighting vehicles. In addition, they would also send 25 Leopard 1 A5 main battle tanks and five Bergepanzer 2 from industrial stocks or industrial refurbishment.

The statement added that Germany pledged 31 items in total from Bundeswehr stocks, including 20,000 rounds of artillery ammunition and 5,000 rounds of 155mm smoke ammunition.

In addition, Germany will send a LUNA drone system and a mine interdiction package, the statement said.

On Tuesday, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said in a statement that the weapons package is designed to “support Ukraine in its defense against Russia.”

“With it, we are making an important contribution to strengthening Ukraine’s endurance capability,” Pistorius said.
6:04 a.m. ET, July 11, 2023

White House says cluster munition provisions to Ukraine are "temporary"

From CNN’s Betsy Klein in Vilnius, Lithuania

The White House sought to make clear that US President Joe Biden’s controversial decision to send cluster munitions to Ukraine was a “temporary” measure, with national security adviser Jake Sullivan telling reporters that it will be a matter of “months” as Ukraine bridges a munitions gap.

“The unitary rounds that we've been providing and that we've been getting other allies and partners to provide to Ukraine, those stockpiles are running low,” Sullivan said.

He continued, “We were not prepared to leave Ukraine defenseless, period. So for us, when it came down to the choice, our choice was, despite the difficulty, despite the challenges, despite the risks of civilian harm associated with cluster munitions, the risk to civilian harm of leaving Ukraine without the ammo it needed was, from our perspective, greater," Sullivan said.

Biden told CNN's Fareed Zaharia Friday that he took the "difficult decision" to provide Ukraine with cluster munitions because "the Ukrainians are running out of ammunition" needed to sustain its counteroffensive against Russia.

Sullivan added that the US views the provision of cluster munitions as “temporary” until more unitary rounds can be produced.

“We view that as temporary because many months ago, we began the intensive process of ramping up our unitary round production. Once it hits a level where unitary round production can satisfy Ukraine's needs, then there will be no need to continue giving cluster munitions,” he said, declining to provide a timeline due to questions of usage rates and the defense industrial base hitting its production marks.

Pressed again on timing, he said, “It's months, but the question is, how many?”

Why are cluster munitions controversial?: Cluster munitions are canisters that carry tens to hundreds of smaller bomblets. The canisters break open at a prescribed height, depending upon the area of the intended target, and the bomblets inside are dispersed over that area.

Because bomblets fall over a wide area, they can endanger non-combatants.

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.

5:35 a.m. ET, July 11, 2023

NATO has not seen any movement of Wagner fighters to Belarus, Stoltenberg says

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite in London and Mariya Knight in Atlanta

Members of Wagner group stand on the balcony of the circus building in the city of Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on June 24.
Members of Wagner group stand on the balcony of the circus building in the city of Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on June 24. Roman Romokhov/AFP/Getty Images

NATO has not seen any movement of Wagner mercenary fighters to Belarus, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday.

"So far we haven't seen any deployment or movement of the Wagner forces into Belarus, but of course we follow closely what is happening," Stoltenberg told reporters ahead of the NATO summit in Vilnius, adding that the alliance is "ready" to defend itself against any potential threat.

There has been widespread speculation about where the Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin has been since the aborted mutiny on June 23-24.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko brokered an agreement for him to move to Belarus, but said last week Prigozhin was not in the country

Last week, the presidents of Lithuania, Poland and Latvia wrote a letter to the NATO Secretary General and the Heads of the NATO Alliance, warning them about the threat “posed by Russia’s aggressive actions and the evolving situation in Belarus.”

According to the Lithuanian President’s Communication Group, the three leaders also pointed out that “the relocation of the Russian Wagner Group mercenaries and their leader Yevgeny Prigozhin to Belarus would generate risks for the political stability in Belarus and in consequence a potential loss of control over conventional and nuclear weapons.”

The Polish Defense minister Mariusz Blaszczak tweeted on Friday that over 1,000 soldiers and almost 200 units of equipment from the 12th and 17th Mechanized Brigades were starting to move to the east of the country."

"This is a demonstration of our readiness to respond to attempts at destabilization near the border of our country," he added.
5:22 a.m. ET, July 11, 2023

Russian submarine commander killed in Russia

From CNN's Mariya Knight, Olga Voitovych and Andrew Carey

Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence has disclosed what it says are the details of how a Russian submarine commander was shot dead in the southern Russian city of Krasnodar, but stopped short of explicitly claiming responsibility for his death.

Stanislav Rzhitsky was killed on Monday by an “unknown person” according to Russia’s TASS news service, adding that “the motive for the crime is being investigated. Suspects are identified.”

In an unusually detailed statement on Telegram early Tuesday, Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence disclosed how it had apparently happened.

“The submariner was jogging in the '30th Anniversary of Victory' park in Krasnodar. Around 6 a.m., he was shot seven times with a Makarov pistol. As a result of the gunshot wounds, Rzhitsky died on the spot,” the statement said.

“Due to heavy rain, the park was deserted, so there were no witnesses who could provide details or identify the attacker,” the statement added.

Rzhitsky commanded one of Russia’s Kilo-class submarine of the Black Sea fleet, capable of firing Kalibr cruise missiles, according to the Ukrainian statement and Russian news reports.

Submarine-launched missile attacks have been responsible for some of the most destructive strikes on Ukrainian cities, including one almost exactly a year ago on the central city of Vinnytsia which killed dozens of people, including three children. 

5:19 a.m. ET, July 11, 2023

Why China and Taiwan loom large behind Ukraine at NATO summit

Analysis from CNN's Brad Lendon in Seoul

Anti-tank fortifications from previous conflicts line the beach in front of the Chinese city of Xiamen on April 9, in Kinmen, Taiwan.
Anti-tank fortifications from previous conflicts line the beach in front of the Chinese city of Xiamen on April 9, in Kinmen, Taiwan. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

The presence of four Asia-Pacific leaders at the NATO summit this week suggests that Ukraine is not the only major security issue on the agenda of the European-North American defense alliance.

The war in Ukraine has brought members of the US-led alliance closer than at any time since the Cold War, and on Monday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg summed up their collective concerns that what is happening in Ukraine today could occur in Asia tomorrow.

“The Chinese government’s increasingly coercive behavior abroad and repressive policies at home challenge NATO’s security, values, and interests,” Stoltenberg wrote on the Foreign Affairs website.

“Beijing is threatening its neighbors and bullying other countries,” he said, adding that the Chinese threat extends directly into the homelands of the 31 countries in the alliance as the ruling Chinese Communist Party attempts “to take control of critical supply chains and infrastructure in NATO states.”

Autocratic nations, including China, were looking at Russia’s actions in Ukraine, and weighing the costs and benefits of offensive action, he said.

While not naming the island of Taiwan, the self-governing democracy is the most obvious point of comparison given China’s ruling Communist Party remains committed to unifying it with the mainland – by force if necessary.

“When I visited Japan and South Korea at the start of this year, their leaders were clearly concerned that what is happening in Europe today could happen in Asia tomorrow,” Stoltenberg said.

For its part, China says Taiwan is an internal matter and it sees no role for countries in the region, let alone NATO members, to be interfering.

“We will not allow anyone or any force to meddle in China’s own affairs under the disguise of seeking peace,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a regular press briefing in May.

Read the full analysis here.

5:10 a.m. ET, July 11, 2023

NATO condemns Russia's announcement of deploying tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, says Stoltenberg

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite and Zahid Mahmood in London

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg gives an interview prior to the official opening of the NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, on July 11.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg gives an interview prior to the official opening of the NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, on July 11. Petras Malukas/AFP/Getty Images

NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday said that the alliance condemns the announcement that Russia will deploy tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus.

“We are monitoring closely what they are doing,” Stoltenberg said in a doorstep interview ahead of the NATO summit taking place in Vilnius, Lithuania.

“So far we haven't seen any changes in the Russian nuclear deployments posture that requires any changes from our side," he continued.

“But we remain vigilant, and we will ensure that we of course already to protect and defend every NATO allies against any potential threat.”

Some background: Russia announced plans in March to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, in a sign of a growing military alliance between the neighbouring countries.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said in May that Russia had begun to transfer the weapons to its territory -- and even offered to provide nuclear weapons to other countries willing "to join the Union State of Russia and Belarus."

"There will be nuclear weapons for everyone," Lukashenko said.

However, there are doubts over whether the transfer of weapons has really begun. While Russian President Vladimir Putin said last month that the facilities in Belarus necessary to store tactical nuclear weapons would be ready by July 7, Western officials have seen no signs of that.

Belarus still does not appear to have the proper infrastructure in place to house the weapons, officials said, and it will likely be months, if not longer, before doing so is even feasibly possible. 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. 

4:28 a.m. ET, July 11, 2023

Biden "looking forward" to Sweden’s accession to NATO

From CNN’s Betsy Klein in Vilnius, Lithuania

U.S. President Joe Biden, left, meets with Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda at the Presidential Palace in Vilnius, Lithuania, on July 11.
U.S. President Joe Biden, left, meets with Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda at the Presidential Palace in Vilnius, Lithuania, on July 11. Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

US President Joe Biden is “looking forward” to Sweden’s accession to NATO, he said as he began his engagements in Vilnius, Lithuania on Tuesday. 

“Thank you, Mr. President, for hosting this historic summit at an important time. The first time that NATO leaders will meet, 31, together, and looking forward to meeting very soon with 32 members with the addition of Sweden,” he said as he began a bilateral meeting with summit host Lithuania President Gitanas Nauseda, marking his first on-camera remarks following the news that Turkey had dropped its objection to Sweden’s bid to join the alliance.

“I am confident we’ll get that done,” he said of Sweden’s membership, which still requires a parliamentary procedure in Turkey to formally approve. 

Ahead of the summit’s start later Tuesday, Biden said the US was in attendance “to reaffirm our commitment to NATO."

“We are committed to Lithuania, and to the Baltics, and to NATO,” he said. “Our pledge to be with you has not wavered.”

He also looked ahead to the summit, which comes at a critical moment for Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Russia

“In the coming days, we’re also going to discuss a range of issues: how to strengthen NATO’s Eastern Flank and modernize NATO’s defense and deterrence capabilities and we’re going to do it in a place where those efforts truly matter every single solitary day,” he said, adding that the group also plans to discuss “our support for Ukraine.” 

And Biden reiterated the NATO commitment to Article 5, the principle that an attack on one member of NATO is an attack on all members.

“We take – NATO takes – all of us take Article 5 literally. One inch of NATO territory means we’re all – all on board together against whoever is violating that space. We will defend every inch of it,” he said.

Nauseda welcomed Biden to Lithuania and called it a “historic” summit “even before it started” due to the Sweden announcement.

Earlier Tuesday, Biden and Nauseda participated in a formal arrival ceremony outside the Lithuanian presidential palace. A military band played “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the Lithuania national anthem, and the leaders inspected an honor guard – part of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas Staff Battalion – as they walked along a red carpet together.

Inside, Biden sat at a small table and signed a guest book, then smiled for a photo with Nauseda in front of both countries’ flags. 

Asked by a reporter whether he was surprised that Turkey agreed to Sweden’s accession, Biden said, “Not at all.”

Read more:

3:34 a.m. ET, July 11, 2023

Russia launches drone attack on grain facilities in Odesa, Ukraine military officials say

From CNN's Andrew Carey and Olga Voitovych in Kyiv

Russia targeted grain facilities in Ukraine's southern port city of Odesa overnight with Shahed attack drones, according to Ukrainian military officials.

The officials claimed almost all the drones were shot down, but two succeeded in evading air defenses and struck administrative buildings at the port.

Debris from successful interceptions caused fires in two terminals, including one holding grain, officials said, but damage from the fires was minimal before they were extinguished.

Odesa is Ukraine’s largest port and the starting point for grain shipments through the Black Sea and on to world markets.

The passage of ships carrying Ukrainian grain has been governed by a deal involving Russia, Ukraine and Turkey since July last year. The arrangement is currently due to expire next week and Russian officials have expressed reluctance to extend it.