President Donald Trump took his war of words with America’s allies to a new level Wednesday, telling NATO’s top official Germany is “captive” to Russia due to a recent energy deal. And he called alliance members “delinquent” on their contributions to NATO’s budget.
Before he departed for the alliance summit in Belgium that starts a week-long trip that also features meetings with U.K. leaders and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump said the latter would likely be the “easiest.” He made good on that prediction at the start of the NATO summit, lecturing NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in front of media members.
“I think it’s very sad when Germany makes a massive oil and gas deal with Russia,” Trump said. “We’re supposed to be guarding against Russia, and Germany goes out and pays billions and billions of dollars a year to Russia.”
“We’re supposed to protect you against Russia,” he told Stoltenberg, “but they’re paying billions of dollars to Russia and I think that’s very inappropriate.”
Bilateral Breakfast with NATO Secretary General in Brussels, Belgium… pic.twitter.com/l0EP3lzhCM
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 11, 2018
In March, Germany agreed to allow Russia’s energy-exporting monopoly Gazprom to build a pipeline through its waters. More recently, the European Union made a new deal with the same firm that will tighten Moscow’s grip on Europe as its leading fuel supplier, which it has been for decades.
“The former chancellor of Germany is head of the pipeline company that’s supplying the gas,” he said, referring to Gerhard Schröder. “You tell me, is that appropriate? I’ve been complaining about this from the time I got here.
“Germany is totally controlled by Russia,” Trump said, contending the European country gets up to 70 percent of its energy from the Russian pipeline.
“You tell me if that’s appropriate because I think it’s not,” he said to Stoltenberg, calling the pipeline deal a “very bad thing for NATO. … I think we have to talk to Germany about it.”
But the U.S. president did not stop his criticism of Germany there.
“Germany is just paying a little over 1 percent” of its GDP annually to the alliance’s budget, Trump griped. Members have pledged to get to 2 percent, but most countries are well off the mark — something Trump campaigned to change.
“Germany is a rich country,” he complained. “Well, they could increase it immediately — tomorrow — and have no problem,” he said of Germany.
Trump kept going, saying previous American leaders have mentioned the 2 percent issue but either did not understand like he does or “didn’t want to get involved.”
“But I have to bring it up because I think it’s very unfair to our country, it’s very unfair to our taxpayer,” he said.
Stoltenberg offered a more diplomatic take, saying: “There are sometimes differences and different views.” But “despite differences,” he said, alliance members agree “to protect and defend each other.”
That only triggered Trump.
“How can you be together when a country is getting its energy from the country you want protection against?” he shot back. “They’re just making Russia richer.”
Some Democratic lawmakers were quick to criticize the president for his remarks, questioning his desire for warmer relations with Moscow.
In a joint statement, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Trump’s “brazen insults and denigration of one of America’s most steadfast allies, Germany, is an embarrassment. …His behavior this morning is another profoundly disturbing signal that the president is more loyal to President Putin than to our NATO allies.”
If Trump leaves his meeting with Putin “without ironclad assurances and concrete steps toward a full cessation of Russian attacks on our democracy, this meeting will not only be a failure — it will be a grave step backward for the future of the international order and global security,” they said.
“The president needs to remember that, as Commander-in-Chief, his duty is to protect the American people from foreign threats, not to sell out our democracy to Putin,” the statement concluded.
House Intelligence Committee member Eric Swalwell of California used a tweet to weigh in, writing that “Germany at least gets energy out of its relationship with Russia. What do we get? This embarrassment below. That’s what,” referring to a video of Trump’s comments.
Germany at least gets energy out of its relationship with Russia. What do we get? This embarrassment below. That’s what. https://t.co/6NREozJfPo
The meeting with the NATO leader is the lone formal one-on-one session the White House planned for the president at the summit.
During a “pull-aside” meeting later with Merkel, Trump told reporters “We’re having a great meeting.”
While his earlier comments did not reflect it, he claimed that “We have a very, very good relationship with the chancellor,” adding U.S.-German relations are “tremendous.”
Merkel then, speaking in German, said the two countries are “good partners.”
“I am pleased to have this opportunity to be here for this exchange of views,” she said.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters at the summit that Trump will have a similar meetings later in the day with French President Emmanuel Macron.
With Trump’s much-anticipated summit with Putin just five days away, Stoltenberg appeared to get in a shot of his own, telling Trump other NATO leaders are “looking forward to your thoughts about the meeting with President Putin later on.”
Watch: McConnell Says ‘Nothing Wrong’ With Trump, Putin Meeting