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 against the second biggest economy in the US—led alliance, 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 intended to protect Europe from 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 US ambassador to Belgium. But remarks in which he seemed to overstate by a factor of three Berlin’s reliance on Russian energy and said that “Germany is totally controlled by Russia” drew a tart riposte from German Chancellor Angela Merkel as she arrived later at the summit.
“I have experienced myself how a part of Germany was controlled by the Soviet Union,” she said of her youth in Communist East Germany. “I’m very glad that today we are united in freedom ... because of that we can say that we can make our independent policies and make independent decisions.” She also defended Germany’s contribution to an alliance which Trump says places too much burden on the US taxpayer.
Aside from putting the share of Russian energy at 70 per cent of Germany’s consumption when it is in fact about 20 per cent, Trump appeared to suggest the Nord Stream 2 pipeline was a public project while Merkel insists it is a private commercial venture.
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.