Ukraine Enraged as NATO Official Suggests Ceding Land to Russia in Exchange for Membership

DONETSK OBLAST, UKRAINE - AUGUST 12: Ukrainian soldiers fire the D-30 artillery to Russian positions in the direction of Klishchiivka as the Russia-Ukraine war continues in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on August 12, 2023. (Photo by Diego Herrera Carcedo/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Diego Herrera Carcedo/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Ukraine has rebuffed suggestions from a top NATO official to cede some of its territory to Russia in exchange for a possible deal to receive membership into the Western military alliance.

Speaking in front of an audience in Norway this week, Stian Jenssen, the chief of staff for NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, floated the idea of a potential peace agreement to bring an end to the war in Ukraine in which Kyiv surrenders some of its territory to Russia and Moscow, in turn, drops its opposition to its neighbour joining the American-led NATO alliance.

“I think that a solution could be for Ukraine to give up territory, and get NATO membership in return,” Jenssen said according to Verdens Gang, adding that “it is important that we discuss our way through this.”

“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,” the Norwegian said.

“Russia is struggling enormously militarily, and it seems unrealistic that they can take new territories. Now it is rather a question of what Ukraine manages to take back,” he added.

Jenssen did caveat that his suggestion was not official NATO policy and that “it must be up to Ukraine to decide when and on what terms they want to negotiate”.

Yet this caveat was apparently not convincing for the Ukrainians, with a chief advisor to President Zelensky, Mykhailo Podolyak branding the suggestions of a territory swap for NATO membership as “ridiculous”.

Podolyak wrote on social media: “Trading territory for a NATO umbrella? It is ridiculous. 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. After all, why should Russia voluntarily abandon provocations, hybrids, and traditional behaviour without losing?

“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.

The Zelensky advisor said that instead of calling for a peace settlement that includes freezing the current front lines, Western forces should instead be focussing on “speeding up the supply of weapons”, adding: “Murderers should not be encouraged by appalling indulgences…”

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister also pushed back at the suggestion in an interview Thursday, telling AFP that: “Our goal is victory, victory in the form of the liberation of our territories within [Ukraine’s] borders of 1991. And we don’t care how long it takes”.

With it quickly approaching 600 days since the re-invasion of Ukraine last year, there has seemingly been little appetite on either side to end the conflict. While Washington has been largely absent on the peace front, Mohammed bin Salman’s Saudi Arabia attempted earlier this month to begin brokering a deal, however, talks in Jeddah did not include anyone from Moscow.

Over the weekend, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz — whose party has been losing ground to the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party amid the war — said over the weekend that he would be in favour of more diplomatic efforts to reach a peace agreement, describing the talks in Saudi Arabia as “very important” but “only the beginning, unfortunately.”

It remains to be seen how much longer the Ukrainians will be able to continue the fight against the larger and now heavily entrenched Russian army, with the much-anticipated summer counter-offensive so far proving disappointing.

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