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President Volodymyr Zelensky called on US President Joe Biden to invite Ukraine into NATO “now” – even if membership does not come until after the war.
Speaking in English to CNN, Zelensky said that Biden was “the decision maker” about whether Ukraine would be in NATO or not.
“He supports our future in NATO,” but an invitation now would be a huge motivator for Ukrainian soldiers, Zelensky said in an exclusive interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett.
Ukraine’s aspiration to join is enshrined in its constitution and its relationship with NATO dates back to the early 1990s, according to the alliance. NATO is due to hold a summit in Lithuania on July 11 and 12 where leaders are expected to discuss Ukraine's membership.
“Now,” Zelensky said in response to a question about why not wait for an invitation. “It’s very important.”
“It’s so important to feel that you are really being around allies in the future," he added.
Zelensky added that he understood that Ukraine would “never be in NATO before war finishes.”
NATO stipulates that the settlement of territorial disputes is “a factor in determining whether to invite a state to join the Alliance.”
“We understand everything,” Zelensky said.” But this signal is really very important. And depends on Biden’s decision.”
Erin Burnett’s full interview with President Zelensky airs Wednesday at 7 pm ET.
President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday acknowledged difficulties on the battlefield — but said Ukraine was "making progress."
Kyiv says the military has taken back 9 square kilometers of territory in the east of the country and 28.4 square kilometers in the south in the past week, totaling about 14 square miles.
However, Ukrainian officials reported heavy fighting in the east of the country.
Russia has deployed over 180,000 troops to two major battlefronts, according to Serhii Cherevatyi, spokesperson for the eastern grouping of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The Russian forces, which he described as a "pretty powerful grouping," were ranged near the cities of Lyman to Kupyansk as well as around Bakhmut, the nearly flattened city that has endured some of the bloodiest clashes since the start of the year.
Here are the other developments you should know:
- At least 2 killed after drones hit city of Sumy: Four Russian drones hit the center of the northeastern city of Sumy, hitting two residential apartment blocks and an administrative building, according to local officials. At least two people were killed the regional military administration reported in an update on Monday.
- Russia to hold local elections in 4 annexed regions, authorities say: Russia is set to hold local elections in the four Ukrainian regions controlled by Moscow, the head of the Central Election Commission said Monday. Voters will elect local governors and other officials in September, Ella Pamfilova told President Vladimir Putin during a meeting.
- Ukraine and Germany call for extension of grain agreement: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz held a telephone call with Zelensky on Monday to discuss the “political, military, and humanitarian situation in Ukraine,” according to a spokesperson for the German government. The two leaders called for the extension of the UN-brokered Ukraine grain agreement, which is due to expire on July 17, according to a statement.
- Situation worrying at Zaporizhzhia, UN watchdog says: The Ukrainian nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, reconnected to its only available backup power line four months after it was lost, but the situation "remains extremely fragile during the ongoing military conflict and is not sustainable," Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in a statement. The plant is currently held by Russian forces but is mostly operated by a Ukrainian workforce.
- Erdogan digs in: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey “will not back down” on its opposition to Sweden joining NATO until all of its “demands are met.” Last month, after meeting with Erdogan in Istanbul, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that Sweden had fulfilled its obligations.
- Ukraine and NATO: Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, said Moscow's goal is "to eliminate the threat of Ukraine's membership in NATO.” The matter of Ukrainian membership in NATO is one of several issues leaders will tackle when they meet in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius on July 11 and 12.
- Ukraine presses for an investigation into Russia’s crimes of aggression: Ukraine hopes an international tribunal into alleged Russia’s crimes of aggression can be held based on the work of a new evidence-gathering center launched Monday. Speaking during a news conference marking the center’s launch in The Hague, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin said he anticipated prosecutors will not only gather evidence but also begin building a “prosecutorial strategy” which could be used by a future tribunal.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey “will not back down” on its opposition to Sweden joining NATO until all of its “demands are met.”
Erdogan said his country's expectations were made clear and that "we defend the same principles that we defended last year."
“We do want them to harbor the separatist organizations and FETO rascals. And I want it to be known that we are not going to back down until all of those demands are met,” Erdogan told journalists Monday.
Some background: FETO is what Turkey calls the followers of Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally who has been in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999. Erdogan has accused him of orchestrating a failed coup attempt in July 2016. He has likened Gulen’s followers to ISIS, which has repeatedly bombed targets within Turkey, and the Kurdish separatist movement PKK, which is listed as a terror organization by the US.
The Turkish president's comments contradict recent remarks made by Swedish, NATO and US officials regarding Sweden’s possible accession to the alliance.
Last week, Sweden’s Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said it had fulfilled the necessary requirements set out by Turkey in order to join NATO.
Earlier in June, after meeting with Erdogan in Istanbul, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that Sweden had fulfilled its obligations.
More context: Sweden, Finland and Turkey are set to hold a meeting in Brussels before NATO’s July meeting in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius next week where the matter of Ukrainian membership of the alliance is expected to be on the agenda.
Both Sweden and Finland stated their intent to join NATO through its open-door policy in May of 2022, 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 remains blocked.
Russia has deployed over 180,000 troops to the two major eastern battlefronts, according to Serhii Cherevatyi, spokesperson for the eastern grouping of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
“More than 180,000 (Russian troops have been deployed) across the area of responsibility (of the Eastern Group of Forces) ... The Lyman-Kupyansk front is longer, which is why the enemy is concentrating their forces there,” Cherevatyi said in an interview with Ukrainian media Monday, adding there are “more than 120,000 enemy troops” on Lyman-Kupyansk direction at the moment.
Cherevatyi called it “a pretty powerful grouping.” He said it included “air assault and mechanized units, units of the Bars combat army reserve, territorial forces” and new Storm Z assault companies, that he said recruited people with criminal records.
Cherevatyi said that there are around 50,000 Russian troops on the Bakhmut front.
The cities of Lyman and Kupyansk are about 100 kilometers apart, north of Bakhmut on Ukraine's eastern front.
Meanwhile, Hanna Maliar, deputy defense minister of Ukraine, reported frequent clashes near Bakhmut. “The situation is changing very rapidly,” Maliar said in a Telegram post. “Control over the same positions can be lost and regained twice a day.”
General Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of Ukrainian Land Forces, echoed Maliar's comments in an interview with Ukrainska Pravda, a Ukrainian online newspaper, on Monday.
“The enemy is trying to transfer units to the most threatening directions for counterattacks, trying to destabilize the situation, cause losses to Ukraine and disrupt the logistics of the defense forces,” Syrskyi said, adding that “the threat of the enemy offensive actions from the side of Bakhmut in the direction of Chasiv Yar remains.”
Chasiv Yar is about 15 kilometers west of Bakhmut.
Syrskyi noted that Russians are “desperately clinging to the positions and strongholds that were once occupied by the Wagnerites,” a reference to the mercenary force that led the Russian offensive around Bakhmut.
Ukrainian forces have been able to stop Russian troops from moving within Bakhmut, he said.
Detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich is “in good health and remains strong, despite his circumstances,” a State Department spokesperson said on Monday after US Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy visited him in prison.
“Ambassador Lynne Tracy met with Evan Gershkovich today at Lefortovo Prison in Moscow, Russia. It was the first time U.S. Embassy officials were granted consular access since April 17. Ambassador Tracy reports that Mr. Gershkovich is in good health and remains strong, despite his circumstances,” the spokesperson said.
The US embassy will “continue to provide all appropriate support to Mr. Gershkovich and his family, and we expect Russian authorities to provide continued consular access,” the spokesperson added.
Gershkovich is facing espionage charges in Russia. US officials and Gershkovich’s family have refuted those charges. On Monday, the State Department called – again – for him and Paul Whelan, another American wrongfully detained in Russia, to be released.
“Mr. Gershkovich is wrongfully detained and the charges against him are baseless. We call on the Russian Federation to immediately release him,” the spokesperson said. “We also call for the immediate release of Paul Whelan. Mr. Whelan has been wrongfully detained in Russia for more than 4 years. Both men deserve to go home to their families now.”
Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant has been reconnected to the backup power line for the first time in four months, the head of the United Nation's nuclear watchdog said Monday.
The power plant, which is the largest in Europe, "reconnected to its only available back-up power line four months after it was lost, but the site’s power situation remains extremely fragile during the ongoing military conflict and is not sustainable," Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said in a statement.
"The ZNPP’s connection to the single remaining 330 kilovolt (kV) power line — out of six such back-up lines before the conflict — was cut on 1 March due to damage sustained on the other side of the Dnipro River and restored in the evening of 1 July. Work to reconnect the power line had been hampered by the difficult security situation in the southern region," the statement said.
Energoatom, the company that runs nuclear power plants in Ukraine added before the backup power supply was restored "Zaporizhzhia NPP was 'hanging' on only one line of connection with the national power grid and experienced seven complete blackouts."
More background: The IAEA has raised concerns as to the safety of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, previously describing the situation as “increasingly unpredictable." It has frequently been disconnected from Ukraine’s power grid due to intense Russian shelling, repeatedly raising fears across Europe of a nuclear accident.
The plant is currently held by Russian forces but mostly operated by a Ukrainian workforce. It is also significant because Ukraine relies heavily on nuclear power. Ukraine would lose 20% of its domestic electricity-generating capacity if Russia kept it.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz held a telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday to discuss the “political, military, and humanitarian situation in Ukraine,” according to a spokesperson for the German government.
German spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit said in a news release that Scholz and Zelensky called for the extension of the United Nations Ukraine grain agreement, which is due to expire on July 17.
Zelensky said he had a "long and fruitful phone call" with Scholz. In addition to discussing the grain deal, the Ukrainian president said on his Telegram channel that the two leaders also talked about the situation on the battlefield.
"I am grateful for the important signals of support for Ukraine at the London Recovery Conference and the European Council meeting" and for additional defense aid, Zelensky said in the post.
Some background: The grain agreement was initially signed in 2022, allowing grain to be exported from Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea. On May 17th, when the deal was last set to expire, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that the deal would be extended for two more months.
Why this matters: Ukraine is a major supplier of grain to the World Food Programme (WFP). According to the European Commission, Ukraine accounts for 10% of the world wheat market, 15% of the corn market, and 13% of the barley market. It is also a key global player in the market of sunflower oil.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a UN body, warned at the time that as many as 47 million people could be pushed into “acute food insecurity” because of the war.
CNN's Sophie Tanno contributed reporting to this post.
A couple in their fifties were wounded in a Russian attack on a village in the Kherson region Monday in southern Ukraine, regional governor Oleksandr Prokudin said in a Telegram post.
Shelling hit near a local church, the official added.
"Two people were wounded in the shelling — a 59-year-old man and a 55-year-old woman. Both of the wounded were hospitalized and are receiving treatment from doctors," the post said.
Elsewhere in Ukraine, local officials said a Russian drone attack hit the northeastern city of Sumy, killing at least two people.