Ukraine’s Defence Minister, Oleksii Reznikov has said his country had become a de facto member of the NATO alliance, even as Western countries continue to change their “thinking approach” – against previous thinking that military assistance could be seen as an escalation by Russia.
In an interview with the BBC released Friday, January 13, Reznikov said he was sure Ukraine would receive long-sought weapons, including tanks and fighter jets, as both Ukraine and Russia seemed to be preparing for new offensives in the spring. “This concern about the next level of escalation, for me, is some kind of protocol,” the Ukrainian defence minister said.
“Ukraine as a country, and the armed forces of Ukraine, became [a] member of NATO. De facto, not de jure. Because we have weaponry, and the understanding of how to use it.”
Ukraine, for years, has tried to join NATO, a transatlantic military alliance between the US, Canada and 28 European countries, something President Vladimir Putin has described as a security threat for Russia.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pushed for fast-track accession last year due to the war, but it is unclear whether full membership is something the alliance members will seriously consider even after the war is over, despite pledges of support.
Article 5 of the NATO Treaty says an armed attack against any member should be considered an attack against all.
Reznikov, however, denied that his comments would be seen as controversial, not only by Russia but, perhaps, by NATO itself, as the alliance has taken steps not to be seen as a party to the conflict.
“Why [would it be] controversial? It’s true. It’s a fact,” Reznikov said. “I’m sure that in the near future, we’ll become member of NATO, de jure.”
The defence minister spoke in the capital, Kyiv, as Russian forces claimed to have captured the small town of Soledar, in the eastern Donetsk region, in some of the most intense battles in the nearly 11-month-old war.
The Russian offensive is led by the mercenary Wagner Group, whose founder Yevgeny Prigozhin, a long-time Putin ally, has become a vocal critic of the Russian army’s performance in Ukraine.
The situation in Soledar was “very difficult”, Reznikov said, but “under control”. He said Wagner fighters were being used in “wave after wave after wave” of attacks, leading to a high number of deaths, and that Prigozhin was interested in the possible economic benefits of seizing the town, home to Europe’s largest salt mines. “They’ll earn money from blood,” he said.
The group need to deliver some kind of proof to declare they’re better than the regular armed forces of the Russian Federation, Reznikov. If seized, Bakhmut could pave the way for a Russian push towards Kramatorsk and Slovyansk, two Ukrainian strongholds in Donetsk, a region that has been a key target for President Putin.
Reznikov claimed that “approximately 500 or 600” Russian fighters were being killed every day across the country, while Ukraine was losing a tenth of that. He believed Russia could be trying to gather “forces, ammunition and weapons” for an offensive from areas it already occupies in the south and east.
Ukraine, in the meantime, needed time to regroup and rearm while it waited for the delivery of Western weapons. “Spring is the best period to refresh the movement for all sides,” he said. “We understand they’ll be ready to start and, surely, we have to be ready to start.”
However, rejected claims that Russia could be preparing another invasion from Belarus towards capital Kyiv.
The movement from the north “would take a lot of time and they [Russia] have no resources”, Reznikov said.
The Russian defence ministry has replaced the commander of its forces in Ukraine, putting Gen Valery Gerasimov, to replace Gen Sergei Surovikin, who had been appointed in October.
The change, Reznikov said, was a result of the “conflict between Prigozhin (Wagner boss) and the armed forces of the Russian Federation”.
Gen Surovikin oversaw the recent brutal attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure that, according to Reznikov, “reduced the [Russian missile] stocks without any results”, repeating a Ukrainian claim that “they’re running out of missiles”.
As Poland and the UK revealed plans to deliver battle tanks for the first time, Reznikov said he was sure Ukraine would receive “tanks, fighting aircrafts or jets, and long-range weaponry to hit targets in 300km (186 miles) as well”, because “things were changing” in Western countries.
He dismissed concerns that the announcements could trigger a Russian response.
“I have a war in my country,” he said. “They’re hitting my cities, my hospital, my kindergartens, my schools. They killed a lot of civilians, a lot of civilians. They’re an army of rapists, murderers and looters. What’s the next level of escalation?”