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Biden, Sunak Discuss Ukraine Ahead Of NATO Summit In Lithuania

Ukrainian forces have continued to make gains in the south, liberating an area roughly the size of the city of Odesa since the start of its counteroffensive, the General Staff of Ukraine’s military said on July 10, as a fresh Russian strike on a town in Zaporizhzhya killed at least four people and wounded at least 13.

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The intense fighting comes as NATO is preparing for a key summit on July 11-12 in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, where the war in Ukraine and the alliance’s ties with Kyiv are expected to take center stage, although Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s participation in the summit has not yet been officially confirmed.

Over the past week, the Ukrainian military advanced 1 kilometer in the Melitopol and Berdyansk areas of the Zaporizhzhya region, the General Staff reported on Facebook.

Since the start of the counteroffensive in the south, Ukrainian forces have advanced a total of 8.6 kilometers and liberated more than 10 square kilometers, the military said, adding that the total surface of the regained territory in the Melitopol and Berdyansk areas was 169 square kilometers — approximately the size of the Black Sea port city of Odesa.

Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said on July 9 that Ukrainian forces are consolidating gains made in the southern directions of Melitopol and Berdyansk, where “hot battles” are under way.

Malyar added that in the eastern region of Donetsk, Russian forces were on the defensive in Bakhmut, while heavy fighting was also under way in Lyman, Avdiyivka, and Maryinka, where the General Staff reported more than 30 combat clashes over the previous 24 hours.

At least four people were killed and 13 others were wounded when Russian shelling hit an aid distribution center in Orikhiv, a town on the front line in the southern region of Zaporizhzhya, regional Governor Yuriy Malashko said on July 10.

Russian forces carried out a total of 36 air strikes on 10 civilian settlements in the Zaporizhzhya region over the past 24 hours, Malahsko added.

Also on July 10, Russian troops used ballistic missiles in a strike on the southern city of Mykolayiv, wounding one person and causing damage to civilian infrastructure, regional Governor Vitaly Kim said on Telegram.

Ahead of the Vilnius summit, Ukraine has been pressing for “clear and unequivocal” signals that it will be invited to join NATO, as Moscow again warned against allowing Kyiv into the alliance.

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter on July 10 that NATO has agreed to drop a key requirement that sets out targets to be met by potential candidates before they can join the military alliance.

In comments on the eve of the NATO summit, he said such a move would shorten Ukraine’s path to joining the alliance.

“Following intensive talks, NATO allies have reached consensus on removing the Membership Action Plan (MAP) from Ukraine’s path to membership. I welcome this long-awaited decision that shortens our path to NATO,” Kuleba said.

There was no immediate reaction from NATO after Kuleba’s statement.

Zelenskiy’s participation in the summit remained in doubt, according to Olha Stefanyshyna, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration.

“No decisions have been made yet,” Stefanyshyna said in an interview with Ukrainian media, adding that Zelenskiy traveling to Vilnius depended on the commitments the alliance will make at the summit with regard to Ukraine.

The Kremlin said on July 10 that Kyiv’s membership in NATO would have a “very negative” impact on Europe’s security.

“Ukraine’s membership in NATO would have very, very negative consequences for the entire security architecture in Europe, which is already half destroyed,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, adding that Moscow would have to contemplate a “firm” response to what he called “an absolute danger and a threat to our country.”

In an interview on July 9, U.S. President Joe Biden told CNN that Ukraine would not be extended membership until the war with Russia was over.

“For example, if you did that, then, you know — and I mean what I say — we’re determined to commit every inch of territory that is NATO territory. It’s a commitment that we’ve all made no matter what. If the war is going on, then we’re all in war. We’re at war with Russia, if that were the case.”

With reporting by Reuters

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