Financial Times

Trump accuses Germany of being ‘a captive of Russia’

by Demetri Sevastopulo, Michael Peel and Tobias Buck

July 11, 2018 | 5:58 pm
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Trump accuses Germany of being ‘a captive of Russia’

US president Donald Trump has accused Berlin of being “a captive of Russia” for allowing a new Moscow-backed gas pipeline project to be built to northern Germany and attacked Chancellor Angela Merkel for failing to spend enough on Europe’s defence.

The broadside came in the opening hours of a Nato summit in Brussels on Wednesday that allies had hoped would demonstrate unity in the face of efforts by adversaries to divide its members.

Speaking during a breakfast with Jens Stoltenberg, Nato secretary-general, Mr Trump said Germany was a “rich country” that could boost defence spending “immediately”, adding that it was an “inappropriate” situation that the US would no longer tolerate.

After Mr Stoltenberg stressed the importance of maintaining unity, Mr Trump shot back: “How can you be together when a country [Germany] is getting its energy from the country you want protection against? . . . They’re just making Russia richer.”

Mr Trump has frequently lambasted the failure of many Nato nations to boost military spending — and specifically to reach a goal set in 2014 to spend 2 per cent of gross domestic product on defence. But he has stepped up attacks in recent weeks.

Ms Merkel emphasises that Berlin has raised its military budget in recent years, and will continue to do so.

“In 2024 we will spend 80 per cent more on defence than we did in 2014,” the German chancellor said on Wednesday.

“There are many things for which Germany feels gratitude towards Nato. German unification and the unity of Europe — this had a lot to do with Nato.”

“But Germany also contributes a lot to Nato. We are the second-largest supplier of troops.”

Mr Trump has also intensified his attacks on the EU over its $151bn trade surplus with the US, and also singled out Germany on the issue. Mr Stoltenberg said the trade dispute had not “impacted Nato that much” but said he “cannot guarantee” that it would not affect relations with the alliance in the future.

Mr Trump will meet Ms Merkel later on Wednesday. Sarah Sanders, White House press secretary, said he would probably repeat his criticisms of Germany and its relationship with Russia.

The US has moved to impose sanctions on Moscow over the pipeline project, which has angered Washington and some of its eastern European allies because it bypasses them to deliver Russian gas directly to Germany via the Baltic Sea.

The first Nord Stream pipeline was supported by then German chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who later became a senior executive at Russian gas giant Gazprom and is close to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Mr Trump said Germany was “totally controlled by Russia” because it got 60 to 70 per cent of its energy from Russia. “You tell me if that’s appropriate . . . I think it’s not.”

“We’re supposed to be guarding against Russia and Germany . . . pays billions and billions of dollars a year to Russia,” he said. “We’re supposed to protect you against Russia but they’re paying billions of dollars to Russia and I think that’s very inappropriate.”

When asked about the Nord Stream project, Mr Stoltenberg said that while there were different views, it was an issue for individual nations and “not for Nato to decide”.
Mr Trump has made clear he would use his week-long trip to Europe, which began on Tuesday night and will end with a summit with Mr Putin in Helsinki, to attack European allies over military spending and alleged trade abuses. The Nord Stream complaints broaden the US president’s list of objections.

European nations have made strenuous efforts to choreograph the Nato summit, but they remain anxious about Mr Trump. A G7 summit a month ago agreed a joint communiqué, but Mr Trump later tweeted from Air Force One that his team would not sign the document over criticisms from Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister.

“President Trump’s ally bashing represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the value of our global network of alliances, and a personal antipathy on his part toward many of the European leaders,” said James Stavridis, a former Nato commander who serves as dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University. “We should rightly press the Europeans and Canada to increase their defence spending, but we should do so in a way that avoids publicly denigrating them. ‘America First’ is in grave danger of becoming America Alone.”

Many other experts criticise the way Mr Trump is handling Nato, but James Carafano, an analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said “the histrionics of Nato in peril is completely overblown”.

“Even the most Never Trumpers would have to admit he had a valid issue on burden-sharing . . . [It is] hard to argue that Trump hasn’t succeeded in galvanising action on this issue. The progress and commitments are pretty impressive,” said Mr Carafano. “Overlooked with all the fixation on burden sharing, is that there is actually a pretty substantive agenda on a lot of important issues.”

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by Demetri Sevastopulo, Michael Peel and Tobias Buck

July 11, 2018 | 5:58 pm
  |     |     |   Start Conversation

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