Loose lips sink morale

Loose words from a senior NATO official suggesting that Ukraine might give up some of its territory in exchange for membership of the alliance have provoked anger in Kyiv.

In Moscow, jubilation. That a senior NATO official on August 15 suggested that Ukraine might give up some of its territory in exchange for membership of the alliance would have pleased all but the most committed of Russia’s maximalists.  

Even fervent Russian imperialists would, at the very least, have welcomed the comments, made by Stian Jenssen, the director of the Private Office of the NATO Secretary General, as giving sustenance to the idea that NATO views Russia as having a stake, and a say, in Ukraine’s future. 

“I think the solution might be for Ukraine to give up territory and get NATO membership in return. At the same time, Ukraine must decide for itself when and under what conditions it wants to negotiate,” Jenssen told the Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang. 

“I’m not saying it has to be like this,” he told Norwegian newspaper VG. “But that could be a possible solution.” 

Dimitry Medvedev, a former Russian president and prime minister, called it “an interesting idea”. 

The reaction in Kyiv was furious. One of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s 10 points in his long-standing peace formula involves restoring Ukraine’s borders to where they were before the invasion. The Ukrainian president has made clear that the point is non-negotiable. 

‘The defeat of democracy’

Mykhailo Podolyak, an often outspoken adviser to Zelensky, dismissed Jenssen’s words as “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,” he said. 

“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.  

“Attempts to preserve the world order and establish a ‘bad peace’ through, let’s be honest, Putin’s triumph will not bring peace to the world, but will bring both dishonour and war.” 

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry later called Jenssen’s comments “unacceptable”. 

“We always assumed that the alliance, just like Ukraine, does not trade its territories,” said ministry spokesperson Oleh Nikolenko. 

“Conscious or unconscious engagement of NATO officials in forming a narrative about Ukraine’s refusal from its territories plays into the hands of Russia. 

“It is for the benefit of Euro-Atlantic security to discuss ways of speeding up Ukraine’s victory and gaining full membership in NATO.” 

A blow to morale

NATO later moved to reassure Ukraine that it retained its full support, including its territorial integrity. 

In a statement, the alliance said, “We fully support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as NATO leaders reaffirmed at the Vilnius Summit in July. We will continue to support Ukraine as long as necessary, and we are committed to achieving a just and lasting peace.” 

Nevertheless, desides cheering Moscow, Jenssen’s comments will do little for morale in Kyiv, coming so soon after the Vilnius Summit where Ukraine was told that NATO will only be able to extend an invitation to Ukraine to join the alliance “when Allies agree and conditions are met”. 

NATO made no mention of when that might be, or indeed what those conditions might be. Zelensky criticised the summit as “absurd” for failing to offer a clear timetable for his country’s membership. 

Photo: NATO.

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