Ukraine’s senior officials took turns slamming the suggestion of a NATO bureaucrat that Ukraine surrender occupied territory to Russia in exchange for NATO membership as the military alliance weakly walked back the wayward comments.

The slam dunks started after Stian Jenssen, the chief of staff to NATO’s Secretary General since 2017, said it was a “probable solution” for Ukraine to trade territory for NATO membership.

The Norwegian newspaper VG on Tuesday reported that, while discussing Ukraine's ambitions to join NATO on a panel in Norway, Jenssen said: “I think that a solution could be for Ukraine to give up territory and get NATO membership in return.”

The paper reported that Jenssen, 44, further said that “it must be up to Ukraine to decide when and on what terms they want to negotiate.”

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When a VG reporter asked the NATO adviser to clarify if it was NATO’s official view that Ukraine must give up land in order to join, Jenssen suggested that discussions about plans for Ukraine following the war are underway.

“I’m not saying it has to be exactly like that. But it can be a probable solution,” Jenssen, who briefly served in the Norwegian military prior to his bureaucratic career with NATO, reiterated.

The interlocutor instigated intense ire from top Ukrainian decision-makers. The Ukrainian line-up of angry responders started with the chief of staff to the President, Mikhaylo Podolyak.

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On Twitter, Zelensky’s senior adviser denounced Jenssen’s view as “ridiculous” and an “appalling indulgence” of murderers.

“Trading territory for a NATO umbrella? It is ridiculous,” Podolyak wrote. “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.”

He added: “Murderers should not be encouraged by appalling indulgences.” 

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Podolyak was followed into the fray by the official spokesman for Ukraine’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Oleh Nikolenko, who posted on Facebook that “talks about Ukraine joining NATO in exchange for giving up part of Ukrainian territories are absolutely unacceptable.”

“The conscious or unconscious participation of NATO officials in shaping the narrative about the possibility of Ukraine giving up its territories plays into the hands of Russia,” Nikolenko continued. “Instead, it is in the interests of Euro-Atlantic security to discuss ways to speed up Ukraine’s victory and its acquisition of full membership in NATO.”

After registering the Ukrainians’ fiery ire, an unnamed NATO spokesperson provided a statement of clarification to Ukrainian media outlet, Suspilne.

“We will continue to support Ukraine as long as necessary, and we are committed to achieving a just and lasting peace,” the anonymous official said.

According to Suspilne, the official also emphasized that Ukraine should decide when and under what conditions to achieve peace.

“The position of the Alliance is clear and has not changed,” the NATO representative added, seemingly distancing the organization from the outspoken Jenssen.

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Meanwhile in Moscow, Ukraine’s enemies relished the reckless remarks. The head of the Kremlin’s National Security Council and former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev took to social media in support of the idea.

However, Medvedev, rumored to be a notorious drunkard, added that Ukraine needs to also give up Kyiv and move its capital to Lviv “if the Polacks agree to leave Lemberg to the fans of lard with cocaine.”

In a more sober tone, but with similar intent, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Galuzin told state-run Russian media outlet TASS that “the settlement of the conflict requires confirmation of the fundamentals of Ukraine’s sovereignty – it’s neutral, off-bloc, and non-nuclear status.”

“It is also necessary to recognize the new territorial realities, ensure Ukraine’s demilitarization and denazification, the rights of its Russian-speaking citizens and national minorities in line with international law,” Galuzin said.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who is Jenssen’s boss, has thus far not commented, but is well-known as a strong supporter of Ukraine and its NATO bid.

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Jenssen’s statement also sparked social media into action, including fellow Norwegians concerned by his comments.

One said: “I cannot believe this is where we are… We are being defeated by Russia. Putin was right. The West IS weak. I am both deeply sad, offended and angry, and I am ashamed that this is coming from the Norwegian chief of staff for the Norwegian head of NATO.”

After its full-scale invasion in February 2022, the Russian Federation illegitimately annexed four Ukrainian territories to Russia in September 2022. President Zelensky has demanded the return of those territories, as well as parts of Donbas and Crimea, which Russia invaded and annexed in 2014.

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