Ukraine says it is 'de facto' part of NATO

Ukraine has effectively become a NATO member, its defence minister has said, despite the military alliance's reluctance to get embroiled in a wider conflict with Russia.

Oleksiy Reznikov said he was confident that Western allies would shed their inhibitions about supplying Ukraine with heavier weapons such as tanks and fighter jets.

"This concern about the next level of escalation, for me, is some kind of protocol," he told the BBC in an interview broadcast Friday, dismissing NATO fears about provoking Russia.

"Ukraine as a country, and the armed forces of Ukraine, became (a) member of NATO," the defence minister added.

"De facto, not de jure (in law). Because we have weaponry, and the understanding of how to use it."

Formal membership would require the rest of NATO to defend Ukraine -- and Russia has already warned of the risks of a nuclear conflict erupting.

Short of that, Western countries including the United States have been supplying armoured fighting vehicles and rocketry to Ukraine, but balked so far at sending long-range missiles and heavier tanks.

Tobias Ellwood, who chairs the House of Commons defence committee in Britain, has urged London to supply Ukraine's forces with heavy battle tanks.

"NATO essentially has been benched," the former British army officer told the BBC on Tuesday.

"We should be doing far more to put this fire out and we're not doing that."

Reznikov said there should be no controversy to Ukraine fulfilling its long-held ambition of joining NATO.

"I'm sure that in the near future, we'll become member of NATO, de jure," he said.

jit/phz/cw