"I think that a solution could be for Ukraine to give up territory, and get NATO membership in return," Jenssen said during a panel debate on Aug. 15 in Arendal, Norway.
But Jenssen then added that the issue of Ukraine's status within the military bloc is already being discussed by NATO member nations and will be taken up and decided by Ukraine alone after its conflict with Russia ends. He noted, without naming them, that some other countries within NATO have also raised the possibility of Kyiv ceding some territory, either in exchange for NATO membership or for a lasting peace with Moscow. (Related: US, NATO using discredited domino theory to justify sending even more taxpayer-funded arms shipments to Ukraine.)
Jenssen's comments marked the first time that a high-level NATO official has suggested that Ukraine should consider ceding territory to Russia. But the official line of NATO and its main backer the United States still has not changed, and that is for Russia to withdraw from all territory it has occupied in internationally-recognized Ukraine, which would include giving up Crimea, which has been governed by Russia since 2014.
Jenssen's comments during the panel debate were picked up by Norwegian newspaper VG. Within hours of publication, Ukrainian officials were in an uproar.
"Trading territory for a NATO umbrella? It is ridiculous," tweeted Mykhailo Podolyak, an influential adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. He added that exchanging territory for NATO membership would mean "choosing the defeat of democracy, encouraging a global criminal, preserving the Russian regime, destroying international law and passing the war to other generations."
He then added that anything other than a "crushing defeat" for Putin will result in "Russia's appetite for more."
"Completely unacceptable," said Oleg Nikolenko, a spokesperson for Ukraine's Foreign Ministery. "Consciously or unconsciously, the involvement of NATO officials in shaping the narrative about the possibility of the withdrawal of Ukraine from their territories plays on the hand of Russia."
For its part, Russian officials said they would not accept any hypothetical land trade in exchange for Ukraine's membership in NATO.
Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who currently serves as the deputy chairman of Russia's Security Council, said Ukraine "would have to give up even Kyiv itself" for Russia to accept its membership into NATO, highlighting how this is a red line for the Kremlin.
In a follow-up interview with VG the following day, Jenssen walked back his previous comments.
"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 said.
"It is completely Ukraine's independent right to decide," he added. "I think the most important thing now is that we support the Ukrainians."
This apology notably does not retract the idea that a land-for-NATO-membership deal could ultimately be on the table in future peace negotiations – and this has made Ukrainian officials concerned.
"These comments prove that our worries have ground, that there are some discussions to use NATO membership as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Russia," said one Ukrainian official who spoke with Politico on condition of anonymity.
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Watch this episode of "Brighteon Broadcast News" as Mike Adams, the Health Ranger, discusses the 10 things that will happen if NATO and the United States launch a ground war against Russia.