BRUSSELS (AP) — In a combative start to his NATO visit, President Donald Trump asserted yesterday that a pipeline project has made Germany “totally controlled” by and “captive to Russia” and blasted NATO allies’ defence spending, opening what was expected to be a fraught summit with a list of grievances involving American allies.
Trump, in a testy exchange with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, took issue with the United States (US) protecting Germany when the European nation is making deals with Russia.
“I have to say, I think it’s very sad when Germany makes a massive oil and gas deal with Russia where we’re supposed to be guarding against Russia,” Trump said during a breakfast with Stoltenberg, his first event since arriving in Brussels. “We’re supposed to protect you against Russia but they’re paying billions of dollars to Russia and I think that’s very inappropriate.”
The President 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 US and some other Europen Union (EU) members, who warn it could give Moscow greater leverage over Western Europe.
Trump said that, “Germany, as far as I’m concerned, is captive to Russia” and urged NATO to look into the issue. Trump, who has been accused of being too cozy with Putin — a man accused of US election meddling — was expected to see German Chancellor Angela Merkel later in the day.
Stoltenberg pushed back, stressing that NATO members have been able to work together despite their differences.
The dramatic exchange set the tone for what was already expected to be a tense day of meetings with leaders of the military alliance. Trump is expected to continue hammering jittery NATO allies about their military spending during the summit meeting, which comes amid increasingly frayed relations between the “America first” President and the US closest traditional allies.
“The United States is paying far too much and other countries are not paying enough, especially some. So we’re going to have a meeting on that,” Trump said as he arrived at the breakfast, describing the situation as “disproportionate and not fair to the taxpayers of the US and we’re going to make it fair.”
“They will spend more,” he later predicted. “I have great confidence they’ll be spending more.”
Trump has been pushing NATO members to reach their agreed-to target of spending two per cent of their gross domestic products on national defence by 2024 and has accused those who don’t of freeloading off the US.
“Many countries in NATO, which we are expected to defend, are not only short of their current commitment of two per cent (which is low), but are also delinquent for many years in payments that have not been made,” he tweeted on Tuesday while en route to Europe, asking, “Will they reimburse the US?”
That’s not how the spending words. The two per cent represents the amount each country aims to spend on its own defence, not some kind of direct payment to NATO or the US.
NATO estimates that 15 members, or just over half, will meet the benchmark by 2024 based on current trends.
During his campaign, Trump called NATO “obsolete” and suggested the US might not come to the defence of members if they found themselves under attack — a shift that would represent a fundamental realignment of the modern world order. He also called Brussels “a mess”. Trump has moderated his language somewhat since taking office, but has continued to dwell on the issue, even as many NATO members have agreed to up their spending.
Stoltenberg, for his part, credited Trump for spurring NATO nations to spend more on defence, noting that the Europeans and Canada are projected to spend around USD266 billion more by 2024.
“We all agree that we have to do more,” he said, describing last year as marking the biggest increase in defence spending across Europe and Canada in a generation.
Trump interjected, asking Stoltenberg why he thought that had happened.
“It’s also because of your leadership, because your clear message,” Stoltenberg responded.
Trump took credit for the spending, telling the NATO chief that “because of me they’ve raised about USD40 billion over the last year. So I think the secretary general likes Trump. He may be the only one, but that’s OK with me”.