July 12, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Tara Subramaniam, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Tori B. Powell, Maureen Chowdhury, Elise Hammond and Sana Noor Haq, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, July 13, 2023
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3:30 a.m. ET, July 12, 2023

US official gives few details on reforms needed for Ukraine to join NATO

From CNN’s Betsy Klein in Vilnius, Lithuania

A US official on Wednesday offered vague details about the reforms the United States says are necessary for Ukraine to join NATO a day after the alliance issued a joint communiqué lacking a specific pathway or timeline for the war-torn country’s eventual membership.

“Ukraine still needs to make a number of reforms in order to join,” National Security Council senior director for Europe Amanda Sloat told reporters.
“We recognize that Ukraine has already made significant progress in terms of reforms … But as both the President [Joe Biden] has said, and as the communiqué made clear, there is still the need for Ukraine to take further democratic and security sector reforms. The President has been clear that we think Ukraine can get there. But that is still going to be a requirement for Ukraine to join.”

Sloat described the communiqué as a “strong, positive message reaffirming that Ukraine will become a member of the alliance,” noting that the Membership Action Plan (MAP) was no longer required for Ukraine to join. 

But, she said, there are a “series of governance and security sector reforms” that Washington is working on with Kyiv and with NATO more broadly, pointing to the “annual national program” document drafted by Ukraine and reviewed by allies’ foreign ministers each year. 

Pressed again for any specific example of the reforms the alliance is looking for, she said the US is taking its lead from Ukraine. 

“As we saw with the discussions on the communiqué, everything coming out of the alliance remains a consensus decision, as I have said on the annual national program, part of this is for Ukraine to identify the reforms and the progress that it plans to make and things that it plans to address,” she said. 
3:39 a.m. ET, July 12, 2023

Ukraine to receive "substantial" new aid package, US official says at NATO Summit

From CNN’s Betsy Klein in Vilnius, Lithuania

US President Joe Biden attends the 2023 NATO Summit on July 11, in Vilnius, Lithuania.
US President Joe Biden attends the 2023 NATO Summit on July 11, in Vilnius, Lithuania. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

US President Joe Biden and NATO leaders have “unanimously agreed” to send a “substantial” new aid package to Ukraine, National Security Council senior director for Europe Amanda Sloat told reporters Wednesday — but she declined to provide additional details.

The alliance will also hold the inaugural meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council, before Biden meets with Zelensky, with “near and long-term support for Ukraine” on the agenda, Sloat said. 

Later Wednesday, Biden will give a major address on foreign policy, reflecting on the strength and power of the NATO alliance, Sloat added.

3:37 a.m. ET, July 12, 2023

Biden and G7 leaders set to announce new boost for Ukraine's military capabilities

From CNN’s Betsy Klein in Vilnius, Lithuania

US President Joe Biden (L) and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg attend the opening high-level session of the 2023 NATO Summit on July 11, in Vilnius, Lithuania.
US President Joe Biden (L) and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg attend the opening high-level session of the 2023 NATO Summit on July 11, in Vilnius, Lithuania. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

US President Joe Biden and G7 leaders are set to make a “major announcement” with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky Wednesday in Vilnius, Lithuania, about boosting Ukraine’s military capabilities, offering additional assistance to the war-torn country as its leader expresses frustration with path to NATO membership. 

“The United States, along with G7 leaders will announce our intent to help Ukraine build a military that can defend itself and deter a future attack,” National Security Council senior director for Europe Amanda Sloat told reporters during a briefing Wednesday. 

The announcement will start a process of bilateral negotiations with Ukraine, Sloat said. 

There will be a “long-term investment in Ukraine’s future force” aimed at “ensuring Ukraine has a sustainable fighting force capable of defending Ukraine now and deterring Russian aggression in the future, a strong and stable economy, and the help Ukraine needs to advance the reform agenda to support the good governance necessary to advance Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic aspirations,” she said.

Sloat added the purpose of the declaration would be twofold: bolstering Ukraine’s deterrence, and sending a message to Russia. 

She said the announcement will be made at “an event with the G7 leaders and President Zelensky” following the end of the NATO Summit, with more information to come. 

2:21 a.m. ET, July 12, 2023

Russian drones target Ukraine, Ukrainian Air Force says

From CNN’s Olga Voitovych

Ukrainian air defenses shot down 11 of 15 Iran-made Shahed attack drones launched by Russia early Wednesday, Ukraine's Air Force said on Telegram.

In the central Cherkasy region, two people suffered burns and non-residential infrastructure was damaged following Russian drone attacks, a local military official said.

It's unclear whether the reports are related.

Earlier Wednesday, Ukrainian officials said air defenses repelled Russian airstrikes on the Kyiv region for a second consecutive night.

3:00 a.m. ET, July 12, 2023

Zelensky's frustration over lack of NATO timeline looms over final day of summit

From CNN's Betsy Klein in Vilnius, Lithuania

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a prayer for Peace in Ukraine on Freedom Square on July 8, in Lviv, Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a prayer for Peace in Ukraine on Freedom Square on July 8, in Lviv, Ukraine. Stanislav Ivanov/Global Images Ukraine/Getty Images

President Joe Biden enters day two of the NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, facing questions about Ukraine's path to becoming a member of the alliance, with concerns from his Ukrainian counterpart on full display and fissures among NATO leaders on the thorny issue.

Ukraine has been a dominant item on the summit's agenda as the US president looks to keep the group united behind President Volodymyr Zelensky in the face of Russia's invasion. While the final communique from the summit does remove one barrier to entry, the Ukrainian president will likely be left looking for more signs of assurances from the allied nations.

While US officials have emphatically said Ukraine will not be joining NATO as a member coming out of this meeting, there are few concrete steps or timelines the group has offered as a significant show of support for the war-torn nation.

Zelensky arrived in Lithuania on Tuesday and will participate in the summit and meet one-on-one with Biden, his attendance a sign of unity that threatens to be overshadowed by a blistering statement he issued while he was on his way to the gathering.

The Ukrainian president said he has "received signals that certain wording is being discussed without Ukraine," emphasizing that the "wording is about the invitation to become NATO member, not about Ukraine's membership."

"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. It seems there is no readiness neither to invite Ukraine to NATO nor to make it a member of the Alliance," Zelensky said in the statement, issued via tweet, adding, "Uncertainty is weakness. And I will openly discuss this at the summit."

The final communiqué, released Tuesday, is unlikely to provide Zelensky the answers he demands.

While the allies did agree to remove one requirement for Ukrainian entrance to the group — a Membership Action Plan — given Kyiv's close relationship with NATO nations, it did not provide a firm timeline for when the Ukrainians will become official members.

Read the full story here.

3:08 a.m. ET, July 12, 2023

NATO reaffirms support for Ukraine's push for membership. Here's what's to know from the summit in Lithuania

From CNN staff

President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the crowd at Lukiskiu Square in Vilnius on July 11.
President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the crowd at Lukiskiu Square in Vilnius on July 11. Petras Malukas/AFP/Getty Images

NATO allies on Tuesday reaffirmed their support for Ukraine’s push for membership of the alliance, according to a final declaration issued by the 31-member group at a summit in Lithuania. 

“Ukraine’s future is in NATO,” it said. "We will be in a position to extend an invitation to Ukraine to join the alliance when allies agree and conditions are met."

NATO allies also reiterated their condemnation of Russia's war and its "blatant violations of international law, the Charter of the United Nations, and OSCE commitments and principles.” 

Here are the latest developments from the summit:

  • Rock star welcome: Speaking before thousands on a stage decked out with the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag — beneath a huge sign reading “#UkraineNATO33” — President Volodymyr Zelensky said he was attending the summit to seek “total assurance” from NATO members of the decision that Ukraine “deserves,” referring to membership of the alliance. “NATO will give Ukraine security. Ukraine will make NATO stronger,” he said. After the speech, a Ukrainian flag sent from the front lines of the war was raised in the Lithuanian capital.
  • Streamlined path: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said 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.” 
  • Sweden next: Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said Tuesday he was "very happy" with Turkey's green light to Sweden's NATO membership. On Monday, Stoltenberg said Turkey agreed to back Sweden’s bid to join the military alliance. Previously, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had suggested Sweden could only join after his country was accepted into the European Union.

  • Broader concerns: The Western allies expressed “serious concern” over Iran’s “malicious activities” and urged Tehran to stop supplying drones to Russia for use in the war in Ukraine. In its communiqué, NATO said, “Iran’s support to the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine” is impacting Euro-Atlantic security. NATO also called on China to abstain from supporting the Russian war effort. 
  • Cluster bombs: Allies know why the United States is providing controversial cluster munitions to Ukraine, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday. “Every ally I've talked to has said they understand why we're doing this, when we're doing it,” Blinken told NBC. Some key US allies, including the UK, France and Germany, are signatories to a ban on cluster munitions.
  • Turkey talks: US President Joe Biden and Turkish President Erdogan met Tuesday and "discussed efforts to strengthen bilateral cooperation," the White House said in a readout of the meeting. Biden is expected to meet Zelensky in Vilnius on Wednesday.
10:43 p.m. ET, July 11, 2023

Ukrainian air defense repels attack in Kyiv region for second night in a row, military says

From CNN’s Mariya Knight

Russia launched airstrikes toward the Kyiv region for the second night in a row during the early hours of Wednesday (local time), but Ukraine’s air defense systems engaged in repelling the attack, according to the Kyiv regional military administration. 

“The movement of enemy UAVs has been recorded! Air defense works in the region,” the administration said on Telegram. 

The strikes come following an overnight attack on Monday in which drones launched by Russia were shot down by Ukraine’s air defense.

12:50 a.m. ET, July 12, 2023

"Ukraine's future is in NATO," alliance members reaffirm in joint declaration at summit

From CNN's Sugam Pokharel and Lauren Kent in London

Participants of the NATO Summit pose for a photo in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Tuesday.
Participants of the NATO Summit pose for a photo in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Tuesday. Odd Anderson/AFP/Getty Images

NATO allies on Tuesday reaffirmed their support for Ukraine’s push for membership of the alliance, according to a final declaration issued by the 31-member group at a summit in Lithuania. 

“Ukraine’s future is in NATO,” it said. "We will be in a position to extend an invitation to Ukraine to join the alliance when allies agree and conditions are met."

NATO allies also reiterated their condemnation “in the strongest terms (of) Russia’s blatant violations of international law, the Charter of the United Nations, and OSCE commitments and principles.” 

“We do not and will never recognise Russia’s illegal and illegitimate annexations, including Crimea,” the statement said.
“There can be no impunity for Russian war crimes and other atrocities, such as attacks against civilians and the destruction of civilian infrastructure that deprives millions of Ukrainians of basic human services.”
8:39 p.m. ET, July 11, 2023

US ambassador to NATO says it is tough to agree on timeline for Ukraine's accession 

From CNN's Amanpour team and Bianna Golodryga

Julianne Smith, US Ambassador to NATO, told CNN that it is "very tough" to agree on a timeline for Ukraine's accession to the alliance while the country is still at war.  

"Even the Ukrainians themselves will tell you that they need to make further reforms. They've made good progress on a variety of democratic and security sector reforms, but they'll have to continue working in that direction," Smith said Tuesday.

Smith reiterated that Ukraine has already taken positive steps, which led to NATO agreeing to streamline the accession process by removing a key hurdle for Ukraine — the requirement for a Membership Action Plan.

When asked about whether Ukraine's position and the lack of a timeline gives Russia an incentive to continue fighting, Smith emphasized that allies have already committed to Ukraine's future in NATO, as well as to giving the country long-term support. 

"(Russian President Vladimir) Putin assumed when he started this war, that he could wait us out that the West would look the other direction and it would ultimately lose interest in Ukraine. And the reality is we're at day 500 of this war, and no one is going anywhere," she said. 

Smith also said the United States is "thrilled" Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is in attendance for the summit and for the first NATO Ukraine Council, adding, "I think this sends a very strong signal to President Putin."