It is up to Ukraine to decide when it wants to negotiate peace with Russia, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, as he sought to downplay a key aide’s comments about a land-for-NATO membership agreement.
The head of the military alliance was speaking at the Arendal Democracy Festival where two days ago his chief of staff stirred up controversy by suggesting that Ukraine could “give up territory” for peace and NATO membership.
Stoltenberg argued that the path to a settlement is to “support Ukraine militarily. If you want a lasting and just peace, then military support for Ukraine is the way to achieve it.” interview at the event.
It is Ukraine, and only Ukraine, that can decide when the preconditions for negotiations are there. And who can decide, around the negotiating table, what is the acceptable solution. And our job is to support them.”
It is the third attempt in three days to ease the row caused by Stoltenberg’s aide, Stian Jensen, on Tuesday. NATO issued a statement that evening insisting its policy of support for Ukraine had not changed, while Jensen apologized on Wednesday and said he had misspoken in a simplistic manner as he did.
Ukraine and Russia show no sign of wanting to negotiate an end to the 18-month-old war, with Kiev focused on trying to expel the invaders from within its borders while Moscow aims to unite the territory, roughly the size of Portugal, captured since February 2022.
But the slow progress of Ukraine’s counteroffensive has raised questions about how long the war could last and whether there could eventually be any kind of diplomatic quid pro quo, a scenario that Kiev’s political elite generally dread, because it could imply a settlement of the conflict. nation.
On Thursday, Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, criticized the idea of handing over territory. “Criminals should not be encouraged by the phrase ‘land for peace,'” he wrote on social media network X, formerly Twitter.
“The territory of Crimea and Donbass is the unconditional territory of Ukraine, and therefore the only way to truly stop the war is to return international law to these lands,” the adjutant continued.
Podolac, who had previously criticized Jensen’s comments as absurd, was primarily targeting Nicolas Sarkozy, the former French president, who gave an interview to Le Figaro calling for “diplomacy, discussions and talks” to end the war.
Sarkozy said there was a constant risk of a military escalation if the war continued. “Without compromise, nothing will be possible and we risk the situation deteriorating at any moment. This powder keg can have dire consequences.”
NATO members have increasingly put their fears of escalation to rest by increasing arms supplies to Ukraine, with modern artillery, long-range missiles and tanks, while Russia has made no efforts to strike NATO targets, even though its leaders say they are engaged in direct conflict with the West.
But there are still limitations. Despite the West’s commitment to help Ukraine acquire F-16 fighter jets and train pilots and ground crew, progress has stalled. “It is already clear that we will not be able to defend Ukraine with F-16s in the fall and winter,” Yuriy Ihnat, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force, admitted on Wednesday.
The Washington Post reported last week that the first batch of six Ukrainian pilots will not be ready to fly planes until the summer of 2024.
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