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Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry and top officials in Kyiv have slammed comments by a top NATO official speculating that ceding territory to Russia in exchange for NATO membership could be a way to end the war between the two countries.

“We have always assumed that the alliance, like Ukraine, does not trade territories,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko wrote on Facebook on August 15, adding that such suggestions “play into the hands of Russia.”

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Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, in an appearance on Ukrainian television, called the comments by Stian Jenssen, chief of staff to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, “a strange move.”

“It is absolutely unclear why this was done,” Danilov said.

During an August 15 panel discussion in Arendal, Norway, Jenssen made the comments, saying it could be “a possible solution” to settling the conflict.

He also noted that Russia was “struggling enormously militarily,” that it seemed “unrealistic that [it] can take new territories,”and repeated NATO’s position that any decisions on negotiations with Russia were up to Kyiv.

NATO’s press service in a comment to RFE/RL on August 16 called the statement about territorial concessions “a mistake.”

Jenssen also told a Norwegian newspaper that he should not have spoken as simplistically as he did.

“My statement about this was part of a larger discussion about possible future scenarios in Ukraine, and I shouldn’t have said it that way. It was a mistake,” he told Norway’s VG newspaper.

But Jenssen did not walk back the idea that a land-for-NATO-membership deal could ultimately be on the table. If there were serious peace negotiations, then the military situation at the time, including who controls what territory, “will necessarily have a decisive influence,” he said.

“Precisely for this reason, it is crucially important that we support the Ukrainians with what they need,” he continued, stressing that NATO members remain behind Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said during the NATO summit in Vilnius in July that Kyiv remains committed to liberating all of Ukraine’s territory and would never agree to ceding territory as part of a peace deal with Moscow.

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said earlier this year that “Ukraine does not accept any proposals that would involve the loss of its territories or the freezing of the conflict.”

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called Jenssen’s comments “a bogus story that has certain political goals,” repeating Moscow’s opposition to Ukraine’s possible NATO membership.

Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Galuzin told the state news agency TASS that any settlement of the war would require Ukraine’s “neutrality,” as well as Kyiv’s “recognition of the new territorial realities, Ukraine’s demilitarization and de-Nazification, and the rights of its Russian-speaking citizens and national minorities in line with international law.”

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who is the deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, wrote on Telegram that “to enter [NATO], the Kyiv authorities would have to give up even Kyiv itself, the capital of ancient Rus.”

With reporting by VG and The Guardian

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