The comments were made on Tuesday by Stian Jenssen, chief of staff for NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, and reported by the Norwegian newspaper VG. “I think that a solution could be for Ukraine to give up territory, and get NATO membership in return,” he said, adding that it should be up to Ukraine when and on what terms to negotiate.
Jenssen said the issue of Ukraine’s status after the war is being discussed within the alliance and that some countries have raised the possibility of Kyiv ceding some territory. The comments come as the Ukrainian counteroffensive is stalling, and Western officials are admitting it’s very unlikely to succeed.
The comments mark the first time that a high-level NATO official suggested Ukraine might have to cede territory to Russia. The US and NATO have backed Ukraine’s demands for peace, which include Russia withdrawing from all the territory it has captured since invading, as well as giving up Crimea, which has been Russian-controlled since 2014.
Jenssen’s suggestion drew a sharp rebuke from Ukraine. “Trading territory for a NATO umbrella? It is ridiculous,” Mykhailo Podolyak, an aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, wrote on X. “That means deliberately choosing the defeat of democracy, encouraging a global criminal, preserving the Russian regime, destroying international law, and passing the war on to other generations.”
Podolyak said the war could only end if Russian President Vladimir Putin is defeated. “Obviously, if Putin does not suffer a crushing defeat, the political regime in Russia does not change, and war criminals are not punished, the war will definitely return with Russia’s appetite for more,” he said.
Russia would likely not go for any post-war settlement that involves Ukraine joining NATO as long as it can keep fueling the war since one of its main motives for invading was Kyiv’s alignment with NATO.