Trump blasts NATO allies, calls Germany ‘a captive of Russia’

The president said it’s not fair to American taxpayers that Germany buys energy from Russia while enjoying the umbrella of defense provided by U.S. cash.

President Donald Trump targeted Germany on Wednesday in reiterating his demand that NATO countries step up their defense spending so that they shoulder a greater share of the burden in protecting Europe from Russia.

Speaking even before the NATO summit began here, and amid domestic political turmoil for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Trump said it is not fair to American taxpayers that Germany buys oil and gas from Russia while enjoying the umbrella of defense provided by U.S. dollars.

“Germany is a captive of Russia,” he said, pointing out that the country pays “billions and billions of dollars” to Russia for energy.

Trump highlighted that “Germany is a rich country” and asked why the U.S. should “protect you against Russia” when the two countries are making deals.

“You tell me, is that appropriate?” he asked, adding that: “Germany is totally controlled by Russia.”

In brief remarks to reporters outside the NATO conference, Merkel asserted that Germany is independent from Russia and contributes to the mutual defense of its member nations, and added that she was prepared to have controversial discussions. Merkel, who was raised behind the Soviet Union’s Iron Curtain in East Germany, also noted pointedly that unified Germany is now free from the yoke of Moscow.

Trump’s harsh words for the longtime U.S. ally are part of a larger broadside against European nations that the president says are taking advantage of America. They signaled that he has no intention of easing pressure on alliance nations just because Europe is nervous that tensions could empower Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom Trump is scheduled to meet Monday in Helsinki.

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said later Wednesday that she didn’t “really understand what he means” by saying her nation is “captive” to Russia.

“We have a lot of issues with Russia, without any doubt, but on the other hand you should keep a communication line between countries or alliances and opponents without any question,” she said. “So I’m curious to listen in-depth in the meeting what the American president is meaning by that.”

Merkel and Trump, who arrived at the NATO summit via a different entrance than the other world leaders, were expected to meet face to face on the sidelines of the conference at 9:15 a.m. ET, with Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron scheduled to have a similar tete-a-tete at 10 a.m. ET.

Trump didn’t give NATO allies much time to get settled. His rhetorical fusillade was delivered even before the pomp-filled welcoming ceremony opening the NATO summit, as he and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg spoke to reporters before having breakfast together.

While Stoltenberg said a “strong NATO is good for Europe and good for the United States,” he tried to temper Trump’s criticism of partner nations.

“We have all been able to unite around our core values, that we are all stronger together than apart,” he said.

Trump pushed back.

“How can you be stronger when a country is getting energy from the person you want to protect against?” the president asked.

“Because we understand when we stand together we are stronger,” Stoltenberg explained.

Trump replied: “No, you are just making Russia richer.”

The president’s comments appeared to be referring to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that would bring gas from Russia to Germany’s northeastern Baltic coast, bypassing Eastern European nations like Poland and Ukraine and doubling the amount of gas Russia can send directly to Germany. The vast undersea pipeline is opposed by the U.S. and some other E.U. members, who warn it could give Moscow greater leverage over Western Europe.

Earlier, Trump said that he had “great confidence” in Stoltenberg, and gave him credit for working to deal with the “unfair burden” he said was being footed by the U.S.

The line of argument is nothing new for Trump: it’s been his most consistent criticism of traditional American allies and one that he made both at a campaign rally in Montana last week and in Washington just before he departed for his trip to Europe.

But the message may land a differently — a little more directly — now that he is in Brussels and meeting face-to-face with the leaders of NATO nations.

While Trump didn’t mention Merkel by name Wednesday, they clashed at last month’s G-7 summit, and he later took a swipe at her on Twitter — wrongly stating that crime was rising in her country because of mass migration.

He also referred to Merkel at the Montana event, saying: “I don’t know how much protection we get by protecting you.”

The president’s ambassador to NATO, former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, said last week that the goal of the summit is to project unity. But Trump’s demands, and his criticism of Germany, threaten that outcome.

Laura Rosenberger, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund and a foreign policy adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, told NBC News that Trump is only helping Russia by exposing and creating fissures within NATO.

“While concerns about Nord Stream 2 are real, accusing Germany of being captive to Russia is patently false — and frankly feels like a bit of projection coming from Trump,” Rosenberger said. “But more broadly, the fact that he chose to start off the summit’s events by attacking one of our allies, instead of stressing our unity … is itself a win for Putin.”

Agency Report

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