Only Ukraine can decide when it might negotiate with Russia to end the war, and what an acceptable solution might be, Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of NATO, said on Thursday, clarifying NATO’s stance after his chief of staff, Stian Jenssen, suggested on Tuesday that Ukraine could gain alliance membership in exchange for ceding its Russian-occupied territory.
Mr. Jenssen had created an international stir with the suggestion, which Ukraine considers an unacceptable option. He later apologized for the comments, which were first reported by the Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang, adding that it was a mistake and that it was crucially important that NATO supports Ukraine.
On Thursday, Mr. Stoltenberg said at a conference in Norway that NATO’s stance on Ukraine’s potential alliance membership had not changed.
“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,” Mr. Stoltenberg said, according to Reuters.
John F. Kirby, a White House spokesman, echoed Mr. Stoltenberg at a news conference on Wednesday, dismissing the possibility of exchanging Ukrainian territory for alliance membership.
“Yeah, there’s nothing to that,” he said.
At a summit meeting in July, NATO said that Ukraine would be invited to join the alliance, but remained vague on how or when. The position was essentially a victory for President Biden, who had said previously that Ukraine was not ready for NATO membership, though President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine had sharply criticized the “uncertainty” over Ukraine’s path to membership.
Ukrainian officials expressed outrage at Mr. Jenssen’s remarks.
“Trading territory for a NATO umbrella? It is ridiculous,” Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Mr. Zelensky, wrote in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. “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.”
A Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Oleg Nikolenko, also condemned Mr. Jenssen’s suggestion in a Facebook post, calling it “completely unacceptable.”
Russia indicated it was no more fond of the idea. Maria Zakharova, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, called Mr. Jenssen’s suggestion “a bogus story that has certain political goals,” according to Tass, a state news agency.
And the deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, Dmitri Medvedev, said on Telegram that Ukraine would have to give up its capital, Kyiv, if it were to consider exchanging territories for NATO membership.