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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12:20 p.m. ET, July 11, 2023

NATO allies call for Iran to stop supplying drones to Russia

From CNN’s Niamh Kennedy

Leaders attend the opening high-level session of the 2023 NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Tuesday.
Leaders attend the opening high-level session of the 2023 NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Tuesday. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

NATO allies have expressed “serious concern” over Iran’s “malicious activities” within allied territory, urging the country to stop supplying drones to Russia for use in the war in Ukraine. 

In a joint communiqué published Tuesday during a meeting in Lithuania, NATO allies stressed that “Iran’s support to the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine” is impacting Euro-Atlantic security. 

“We call upon Iran to cease its military support to Russia, in particular its transfer of Uncrewed Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) which have been used to attack critical infrastructure, causing widespread civilian casualties,” NATO allies said. 

“We express our serious concern over Iran’s malicious activities within Allied territory,” the statement added. 

The allies also reiterated its “clear determination” that Iran never develops a nuclear weapon, calling on the country to “fulfill its legal obligations under its Non-Proliferation Treaty-required safeguards agreement.” 

12:21 p.m. ET, July 11, 2023

Ukraine reaches agreement on coalition to train pilots on F-16 fighter jets

From CNN's Tim Lister

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov addresses the media in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Tuesday.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov addresses the media in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Tuesday. Ints Kalnins/Reuters

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov says Ukraine has reached an agreement with 11 partner states on forming a coalition that will train pilots on F-16 combat aircraft.

Tweeting from Vilnius, Lithuania, where he is attending the NATO summit, Reznikov said:

“It’s official: a coalition for F-16 training of the Ukrainian Air Force has been formed! Today, 11 partner states + Ukraine signed a Memorandum outlining the terms. I'm especially grateful to Denmark and the Netherlands for their outstanding leadership in this process.”

Key context: President Volodymyr Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials have made the acquisition of F-16s a priority in their negotiations with Western partners. So far, no government has committed to providing Ukraine with the US-made aircraft.

CNN reported in May that US President Joe Biden administration has signaled to European allies that the US would allow them to export F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

The Pentagon also said in May that "F-16s for Ukraine is about the long-term commitment to Ukraine," and not for the country's current counteroffensive.

A handful of European countries have a supply of the US-made F-16s, including the Netherlands, which has signaled a willingness to export some of them to Ukraine. But the US would have to approve that third party transfer because of the jets’ sensitive US technology.

12:20 p.m. ET, July 11, 2023

Ukrainian flag is "still alive and free," Zelensky tells a crowd in Lithuania

From CNN's Lauren Kent and Niamh Kennedy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the crowd at Lukiskiu Square in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Tuesday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the crowd at Lukiskiu Square in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Tuesday. Odd Anderson/AFP via Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed a public crowd in Lithuania on Tuesday, saying that the Ukrainian flag is "still alive and free" despite being under attack.

Zelensky pointed to a Ukrainian flag sent from the embattled city of Bakhmut, saying it is a symbol that Lithuania and the rest of Europe will never have to fight Russian soldiers because there will be no war in Europe. Ukraine will protect its freedom and Europe's freedom, he added.

Zelensky is in Vilnius for the NATO summit. After his speech, the Ukrainian flag sent from the frontlines of the war was raised in the Lithuanian capital.

"NATO will give Ukraine security," Zelensky added as his country continues to bid to join the military alliance. "Ukraine will make NATO stronger."

"Russian ambitions will stay in ruins," he said.

12:02 p.m. ET, July 11, 2023

More Ukrainian missile attacks reported on Russian-occupied cities in southern Ukraine

From CNN's Julia Kesaieva and Tim Lister

There are reports of further missile attacks late Tuesday on the Russian-occupied cities of Berdiansk and Tokmak in southern Ukraine.

Geolocated images show large plumes of smoke rising close to the coast in Berdiansk after reports of explosions on Tuesday afternoon local time.

The Ukrainian-controlled Berdiansk city administration (which is not physically in the city) said local residents reported hearing an explosion around 2 p.m. “We are waiting for details and official confirmation from the General Staff,” it said.

Later it added: “At 4:30 p.m. the local Berdiansk residents heard explosions again — this time around 6 of them.”

A Russian-appointed official in the region, Vladimir Rogov, said that “AFU militants launched another missile strike on Berdiansk," referring to the Armed Forces of Ukraine. "Most of the missiles were shot down over the sea near Berdiansk commercial seaport by the air defense system…One hit was recorded on the territory of a city enterprise," Rogov added.

A local community channel posted that "communication and internet is down in the [Berdiansk] area," citing local reports. "About four explosions have been heard, and air defense is working," the channel added.

Ivan Fedorov – the Ukrainian mayor of Melitopol, which is in the same region – posted on Telegram: “Hot summer in South of Ukraine. The occupiers in Berdiansk and Tokmak experience abundant fires.”

In Tokmak, a pro-Russian social media outlet said “The AFU massively shell Tokmak. Preliminary, 6 strikes were recorded.”

Both Berdiansk and Tokmak are critical hubs for Russian forces in supplying the frontline defenses in Zaporizhzhia. They have been frequent targets for Ukrainian missile and rocket attacks.

11:55 a.m. ET, July 11, 2023

NATO to remove one step to Ukraine's alliance accession, Stoltenberg says

From CNN’s Catherine Nicholls

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg holds a press conference in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Tuesday.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg holds a press conference in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Tuesday. Ints Kalnins/Reuters

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced on Tuesday that the alliance has changed the requirements needed for Ukraine to join the group.

Stoltenberg said allied countries “agreed to remove the requirements for membership action,” which will change Ukraine’s membership path from a “two-step process to a one-step process.” 

While he said NATO allies will invite Ukraine to join the military alliance "when conditions are met," Stoltenberg reaffirmed that the country “will become a member of NATO.” 

11:30 a.m. ET, July 11, 2023

Biden and Erdogan are now meeting at NATO summit

US President Joe Biden meets with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan at the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Tuesday.
US President Joe Biden meets with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan at the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Tuesday. Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

US President Joe Biden and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are now holding a bilateral meeting at the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Before going into the meeting, Biden thanked Erdogan for his leadership and diplomacy on issues that confronted NATO ahead of this summit, such as approval of Sweden's bid to the US-led alliance.

12:52 p.m. ET, July 11, 2023

Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell says Biden made the right call on sending cluster munitions to Ukraine

From CNN's Kristin Wilson, Morgan Rimmer and Manu Raju

Sen. Mitch McConnell talks to a reporter at the US Capitol on Monday.
Sen. Mitch McConnell talks to a reporter at the US Capitol on Monday. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that President Joe Biden “made the right call” on his decision to send cluster munitions to Ukraine in its fight against Russia. 

“These munitions will improve Ukraine’s ability to strike Russian forces and compensate for shortfalls in standard artillery rounds. Despite vocal opposition from his own party, the president ultimately made the right call,” he said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “While the risk of unexploded ordinance is not zero, it is fantasy to believe that wars can be found without risk. Here’s the bottom line – it should be up to Ukraine whether to employ these effective weapons on its own soil.”

McConnell admonished members of the Senate who have criticized Biden’s decision, saying they shouldn’t let “virtue signaling get in the way of reality.”

“Ukraine’s war will not be won with yard signs or hollow promises to hold Putin accountable. It will be won with weapons. The same rules apply to future conflicts we hope to deter. Unity is important, but hard power will be decisive,” he said. 

Other US senators are divided over Biden’s cluster munitions deal with Ukraine.

Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine reiterated his concerns over Biden's deal to send cluster munitions to Ukraine, while Sen. Mike Rounds, a Republican from South Dakota, praised it as “a step in the right direction.” 

Kaine told reporters, “This is a full-fledged war, we got to help Ukraine win. I'm just worried that when the leading nation in the world sends the signal that it's okay to use these, we have good reason, other nations might think, ‘well, we have a good reason to use them too,’ and their reasons may not be as good as ours.”

Asked if Biden should change course, Kaine said that is unlikely. “I don't think that's going to happen. I mean, I've expressed my concerns and expressed them to the White House even before the decision and I do view some of the limitations they put in place are responsive to some of the concerns that some of us have raised.”

However, Rounds said, “I think it's the correct decision to make,” noting that the newer models of these weapons have fewer “duds” and that they won’t be used on civilians.

“The fact that the Russians have been using an older version of the same thing, and they've been using it in civilian areas, is different than the way that we would have the Ukrainians employ these cluster bombs. So, I think it's a step in the right direction,” said Rounds. “They'll use them outside of areas in which civilians are found. But on the battlefield, they can be very effective, again, in taking out adversaries. So, I think it's a step in the right direction.” 
11:01 a.m. ET, July 11, 2023

Ukrainian military claims further success against Russian positions around Bakhmut 

From CNN's Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych

Ukrainian servicemen fire a rocket at Russian troops near the town of Bakhmut in Donetsk region of Ukraine on Monday.
Ukrainian servicemen fire a rocket at Russian troops near the town of Bakhmut in Donetsk region of Ukraine on Monday. Sofiia Gatilova/Reuters

Ukrainian forces report further progress around the city of Bakhmut, where they claim to have retaken some territory in recent weeks.

The Third Separate Assault Brigade said it had defeated units of the Russian 83rd Air Assault Brigade near Bakhmut and had liberated more than a kilometer of territory.

Part of the Ukrainian drive has been to win the higher ground around Bakhmut, bringing the city within their fire control.

“As a result of the offensive, an enemy platoon was completely eliminated,” the Ukranian brigade said.

The commander of Ukrainian ground forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi, also posted video said to show the elimination of Russian personnel in the area.

Ukrainian officials have indicated that their goal is to trap Russian forces within the city of Bakhmut by aiming to take ground on the southern and northern flanks.

For their part, Russian sources have claimed success further east around the town of Lyman.

The Russia's defense ministry said artillery fire had taken out an M777 howitzer “in the Lyman area in the course of counter-battery operations.”

Neither side has been able to make any meaningful breakthrough along the eastern front lines in recent weeks, with small amounts of territory changing hands.

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

Germany will spend 2% of economic output on defense after NATO sets new target due to Russian aggression

From CNN’s Inke Kappeler in Berlin

Germany will spend 2% of its economic output on defense as early as next year, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Tuesday.

Scholz said this output will be achieved through "the resources of our budget and the special assets," referring to the 100 billion euros ($109.7 billion USD) special funds he pledged for defense days after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

Germany will ensure that the 2% target is achieved in the future "on a permanent basis from the regular budget resources," even if the special assets have been used up, he added.

This comes after NATO members decided Friday to make the 2% now a minimum target given the ongoing threat from the Russian war of aggression on Ukraine.

"It is important for us from the outset that there are security guarantees for Ukraine that can be effective after peace. And to do this we will also make the necessary arrangements that are now relevant to what we are currently providing in terms of support, but also to what is required in a peace situation," Scholz also on arrival to the NATO summit in Vilnius.