War in Ukraine: We are de facto members of the NATO alliance – the minister of defense of Ukraine
- Author, Hugo Bachega
- Authority, BBC news
- Report from Kyiv
According to the Minister of Defense of Ukraine, Ukraine has become a de facto member of the NATO alliance. Western countries, once worried that military assistance would be seen as an escalation from Russia, have changed their “thinking approach”.
In an interview with the BBC, Oleksii Reznikov said he believed Ukraine would receive the long-sought weapons, including tanks and fighter jets, as Ukraine and Russia appeared to be preparing for more fresh offensives in the spring.
“Concerns about the next level of escalation, to me, are kind of a protocol,” explains Reznikov.
“Ukraine as a state, and the Armed Forces of Ukraine, have become [un] NATO member. De facto, not de jure (by law). Because we have guns, and we know how to use them.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has presented his invasion of Ukraine as an existential battle against Western countries seeking to undermine Russia.
Russian figures claim they are fighting NATO in Ukraine because the West has been supplying the country with weapons in what they call a war of aggression.
For years, Ukraine has sought to join a military alliance between the United States, Canada and 28 European countries, which President Vladimir Putin has described as a security threat to Russia.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has pushed for early membership, but it is unclear whether alliance members will seriously consider full membership even after the war ends, despite promises of support.
Article 5 of the NATO agreement stipulates that an armed attack against one member must be considered an attack against all members.
Mr Reznikov, however, denied that his comments were considered controversial, not only by Russia, but possibly by NATO itself, as the alliance has taken steps not to be considered a party to the conflict.
“Why [cela serait] controversial? That’s the truth. That’s a fact,” said Reznikov. “I believe that in the near future we will become members of NATO, de jure.”
The defense minister was speaking in the capital, Kyiv, as Ukrainian and Russian troops continued to fight for the small town of Soledar in the eastern Donetsk region in some of the fiercest fighting in nearly 11 months of war.
The Russian offensive is being led by mercenary Wagner Group, whose founder, longtime Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin, has been a vocal critic of Russia’s military performance in Ukraine.
On Tuesday, Mr Prigozhin claimed that his fighters had taken control of the city, a claim rejected by Ukraine and, remarkably, by the Kremlin, in what was seen as a repudiation of Mr Prigozhin.
The situation in Soledar was “very difficult”, said Reznikov, but “under control”. He said Wagner fighters were used in “wave after wave” attacks, resulting in a high death toll, and Prigozhin was attracted by the possible economic benefits of capturing the town, which is home to most of the major salt mines. in Europe.
“They will make money on blood,” he said.
Soledar is about 10 km from Bakhmut, a strategic city where Ukrainian and Russian troops have engaged in a months-long war of attrition that has caused massive destruction and heavy casualties on both sides. There, Wagner’s mercenaries were also deployed in large numbers, and Mr. Prigozhin reportedly made Bakhmut’s arrest a personal goal.
The group, said Reznikov, “must provide some kind of evidence to argue that it is better than the regular armed forces of the Russian Federation.” If captured, Bakhmut could pave the way for a Russian push towards Kramatorsk and Slovyansk, the two Ukrainian strongholds of Donetsk, areas that are President Putin’s main target.
Any gain, more than anything else, will be of extreme symbolic value for Russia. They would come after a series of humiliating setbacks, including a chaotic withdrawal from the northeastern Kharkiv region and a withdrawal from the southern city of Kherson, the only regional capital known to Russian troops during the war.
Mr Reznikov claimed that “about 500 or 600” Russian fighters were killed every day in the country, while Ukraine lost a tenth, a figure which could not be independently verified. He thought Russia could try to gather “troops, ammunition and weapons” for the offensive from the areas it already occupied to the south and east.
Ukraine, meanwhile, needs time to regroup and rearm while it awaits Western arms shipments. “Spring is the best time to reinvigorate movement for all concerned,” he said. “We understand that they will be ready to start and of course we have to be ready to start”.
However, he did not repeat claims that Russia could be planning another invasion of Belarus, a warning dismissed by the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence service. Movement from the north, Mr. Reznikov pointed out, “will take a long time and they [les Russes] have no resources”.
Reznikov was speaking a day after Russia’s Defense Ministry replaced the commander of its forces in Ukraine, a shock announcement seen as a sign of a power struggle. General Valery Gerasimov, one of the architects of last year’s invasion, will take over from General Sergei Surovikin, who was appointed in October.
According to Mr. Reznikov, this change was the result of “a conflict between Mr. Prigozhin and the armed forces of the Russian Federation.” General Surovikin oversaw the recent brutal attack on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure which, according to Mr Reznikov, had “depleted the missile stockpile. [russes] without any results”, repeating Ukraine’s claim that “they are out of missiles”.
When Poland and Britain unveiled plans to deliver battle tanks for the first time, Reznikov said he believed Ukraine would receive “tanks, fighter jets or jets, as well as long-range weapons to hit targets 300 km away”, because “things are changing” in western countries.
He dismissed fears that the announcement could trigger a Russian response, despite threats from Moscow. “I have a war in my country,” he said. “They attacked my city, my hospital, my kindergarten, my school. They have killed many civilians, many civilians. This is an army of rapists, murderers and looters. What is the next level of escalation?”
Additional reporting by Mohamed Madi, Hanna Tsyba and Robbie Wright.