BRUSSELS: US President Donald Trump accused Germany of being a “captive” of Russia on Wednesday as Western leaders gathered in Brussels for a NATO summit where Trump wants Europeans to pay up more for their own defence.
In a startling public outburst, Trump told NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg that Germany was wrong to support a new $11-billion Baltic Sea pipeline to import Russian gas while being slow to meet targets for contributing to NATO defence spending that was intended to protect Europe from Russia.
“If you look at it, Germany is a captive of Russia. They got rid of their coal plants, they got rid of their nuclear, they’re getting so much of their oil and gas from Russia. I think it is something NATO has to look at,” Trump said.
“We’re supposed to be guarding against Russia and Germany goes out and pays billions and billions of dollars a year to Russia,” Trump said in the presence of reporters at a pre-summit meeting at the residence of the US ambassador to Belgium.
His comments appeared to substantially overstate German reliance on Russian energy and to imply the German government was funding the pipeline, which is a commercial venture.
Trump who met with Stoltenberg at the start of NATO summit also said “because of me” NATO has raised more than $40 billion in defence spending.
With tensions in the Western defence alliance already running high over Trump’s demands for more contributions to ease the burden on US taxpayers, and a nationalistic stance that has seen trade disputes threaten economic growth in Europe, the latest remarks will fuel concerns among allies over the US role in keeping the peace that has reigned since World War Two.
After the two-day summit in Brussels, Trump will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday.
Chancellor Angela Merkel recalled her own youth in Soviet-dominated East Germany and said Germany was independent in its policy choices in a pointed response to Trump saying Berlin was a “totally controlled by Russia”.Merkel told reporters on arrival in Brussels on Wednesday, “I have experienced myself how a part of Germany was controlled by the Soviet Union.
“I am very happy that today we are united in freedom, the Federal Republic of Germany. Because of that we can say that we can make our independent policies and make independent decisions. That is very good, especially for people in eastern Germany.”
She also defended Germany’s contribution to an alliance which Trump says has placed too much burden on the US taxpayer: “Germany does a lot for NATO,” she said.
“Germany is the second largest provider of troops, the largest part of our military capacity is offered to NATO and until today we have a strong engagement towards Afghanistan. In that we also defend the interests of the United States.”
NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg later told reporters that Trump had used “very direct language” but that all NATO allies were agreed that the cost of defence spending must be spread around and that last year had seen the biggest increase in a generation.
Trump said Germany had shut down coal and nuclear power plants on environmental grounds, increasing dependence, like much of the rest of Europe, on Russian gas. Trump said: “We’re protecting Germany, we’re protecting France, we’re protecting all of these countries. And then numerous of the countries go out and make a pipeline deal with Russia where they’re paying billions of dollars into the coffers of Russia … I think that’s very inappropriate.”German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who meets Trump at the summit, has given political backing to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to import more gas, despite criticism from other EU governments.