NATO has göne into cleanup mode in the wake of a debate over a senior official’s suggestion that Ukraine could cede territory to Russia in exchange for NATO membership.
The controversy started on Aug. 15 when Stian Jenssen, director of NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg’s private office, said one solution to the ongoing war could be for Ukraine to offer Russia land in return for a spot in the NATO military alliance.
Speaking at a conference in Norway, Jenssen said: “I think that solution could be for Ukraine to give up territory and get Nato membership in return.”
“There is significant movement in the question of future NATO membership for Ukraine. It is in everyone’s interest that the war does not repeat itself,” he added.
Unconvinced by Jenssen’s proposal, Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko branded the sentiment as “ridiculous,” “absolutely unacceptable” and playing into Russia’s hands.
He added: “We have always assumed that the alliance, like Ukraine, does not trade territories.”
Likewise, NATO acted quickly to detach itself from Jenssen’s stance and instead reiterated its official position on the conflict.
“We will continue to support Ukraine as long as necessary and we are committed to achieving a just and lasting peace,” a spokesperson said.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Zelensky, said that surrendering land for a ceasefire would only lead to the “bad peace” of allowing Russia to regroup and gather reinforcements.
Podolyak wrote online: “It is ridiculous. [This would mean] choosing the defeat of democracy, encouraging a global criminal, preserving the Russian regime, destroying international law and passing the war on to other generations.”
Dmitry Medvedev, former Russian prime minister and now deputy head of the country’s security council, described the prospect of a deal as “interesting,” but said Moscow would only sit down at the negotiating table if Ukraine surrendered Kiev.
The comment came as a “surprise” to NATO countries’ representatives, said a senior diplomat from Western Europe, adding that “such a trade-off was never discussed at the council by the allies.”
On Aug. 16, Jenssen appeared to walk back his comments.
In an interview with VG, he said the previous day’s statement was part of a broader discussion. “I shouldn’t have said it that way,” he said. “It was a mistake.”
“It is completely Ukraine’s independent right to decide,” Jenssen said, adding: “I think the most important thing now is that we support the Ukrainians.”