‘Gratitude’ spat: NATO and Ukraine’s clash over aid reveals a strained power dynamic

NATO and Ukraine clashed publicly for the first time this week.

At a gathering in Vilnius, Lithuania, with all the 31 members of NATO, there were clear frictions between Kyiv and the military alliance. This culminated with the Ukrainian leader, Volodomyr Zelenskyy, saying Tuesday that the absence of a timeline for his country to join NATO was “absurd.”

One senior diplomat present at the meetings told CNBC on Thursday that Zelenskyy “overplayed” his hand during the summit and was therefore pressured by the United States and others to show more gratitude.

There was a “very clear message from the U.S. side, you [Ukraine] went too far,” the senior diplomat who attended the meetings in Lithuania but preferred to remain anonymous due to sensitivity of the topic, told CNBC on Thursday.

The comments give an insight into the power dynamics within NATO. Even if some members were very keen to follow Ukraine’s request, the United States in particular isn’t supportive of immediate membership for Kyiv at this time.

“The summit outcome reflects the basic reality that NATO is a U.S. security commitment to, as the strongest military power in the world, defend other eligible countries. Hence NATO will always only move at the speed of Washington, which right now is fixated on China in the long-run,” Jacob Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, told CNBC via email.