After backlash, NATO chief says only Ukraine can decide on talks to end war

Jens Stoltenberg’s chief of staff suggested earlier that Kyiv could give up land to Russia in return for NATO membership.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said only Ukraine can decide when to go to the negotiating table [File: Kacper Pempel/Reuters]

The head of the NATO alliance says it is up to Ukraine to decide on when and under what conditions to begin any negotiations on ending the war with Russia after comments by a senior colleague on the subject resulted in a backlash.

Speaking at a conference in the Norwegian town of Arendal, Jens Stoltenberg said: “It is the Ukrainians, and only the Ukrainians, who can decide when there are conditions in place for negotiations and who can decide at the negotiating table what is an acceptable solution.”

He reiterated that NATO’s role in the war was to support Ukraine.

Stoltenberg made the comments after his chief of staff, Stian Jenssen, said on Tuesday that Ukraine, in the end, may have to give up territory to Russia to end the war.

According to the Norwegian newspaper VG, Jenssen said during a panel debate in Arendal: “I think that a solution could be for Ukraine to give up territory and get NATO membership in return.”

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, greets NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warmly at the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, in July but expressed frustration with the summit’s outcome [File: Ints Kalnins/Reuters]

Ukrainian officials slammed the suggestion. Oleg Nikolenko, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called any talk of swapping land for membership “completely unacceptable”.

Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council and a former president and prime minister, said: “To join the bloc, the Kyiv authorities will have to give up even Kyiv itself, the capital of ancient Rus.”

Jenssen has said he regrets his suggestion, adding that it was part of a more extensive discussion on the possible future scenarios in Ukraine.

After his chief of staff’s comments, Stoltenberg said: “His message, which is my main message and which is NATO’s main message, is, firstly, that NATO’s policy is unchanged – we support Ukraine.”

He also said that regarding Russia’s nuclear threat, the bloc had not detected any changes.

“We haven’t seen any changes in their nuclear forces that trigger us to change our forces and the way those are arranged,” he said.

At last month’s NATO summit, the alliance said, “Ukraine’s future is in NATO,” but it did not provide Kyiv a timeline for membership. The leaders said NATO would extend an official invitation to join only when “conditions are met” without specifying what those conditions are.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expressed frustration over the lack of an invitation and timeline.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies