U.S. 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 more for their own defense.
In a startling public outburst against one of Europe’s main military powers, 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 NATO spending to protect against Russia.
“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 U.S. ambassador to Belgium.
Trump, who later arrived at NATO’s new billion-dollar headquarters in his presidential limousine, appeared to substantially overstate German reliance on Russian energy and to imply the German government was funding the pipeline, which Berlin says is a commercial venture.
With tensions in the Western alliance running high over Trump’s trade tariffs on European steel and his demands for more contributions to ease the burden on U.S. taxpayers, the latest remarks fueled concerns among allies over the U.S. role in keeping the peace that has reigned since World War Two.
Baltic leaders fearful of any repeat of Russia’s annexation of Crimea called for unity as they arrived at the summit, while Slovakia’s President Andrej Kiska said his country was “one of the good guys” because he was increasing defense spending.
Those comments underscored the risks to Trump’s strategy by dividing allies between those who spend more on defense and those who do not, such as Belgium, Spain, Italy and Luxembourg, but who contribute with troops to NATO missions.