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BRUSSELS — 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.”
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 were expected to meet face to face on the sidelines of the NATO summit at 9:15 a.m. ET, and Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron were 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.