Donald Trump has launched a blistering attack on Germany, saying it was “totally controlled” by Russia, as he ramped up demands for Nato allies to pay more for their collective defence.
On the opening day of an alliance summit in Brussels, the US president further raised the stakes by suggesting a doubling of the alliance target for member states to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defence.
“He suggested that countries not only meet their commitment of 2% of their GDP on defence spending, but that they increase it to 4%,” said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Arriving in the Belgian capital, Mr Trump said it was “totally inappropriate” that Germany was paying billions of dollars to Russia for oil and gas while spending little more than 1% of its GDP on defence.
He said the deal had left the German state a “captive” of Moscow.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel hit back, saying that having experienced life in Soviet-controlled former East Germany, she was glad they could now “determine our own policies and make our own decisions”.
After meeting Mrs Merkel later in the margins of the summit, Mr Trump insisted they had “a very, very good relationship”, but his comments could not disguise the continuing divisions among the Western allies.
Theresa May, who is preparing to host Mr Trump on his first visit to the UK as president, was at pains to stress Britain’s “steadfast” commitment to the alliance, announcing the deployment of 440 more troops to the Nato mission in Afghanistan.
The president launched his tirade against Germany during a meeting on Wednesday ahead of the main summit with Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg.
“I think it is very sad when Germany makes a massive oil and gas deal with Russia. We are supposed to be guarding against Russia, and Germany goes out and pays billions and billions of dollars a year to Russia,” he said.
“We are protecting Germany, we are protecting France, we are protecting all of these countries, and then numerous of the countries go out and make a pipeline deal with Russia where they are paying billions of dollars into the coffers of Russia. I think that is very inappropriate.
“It should never have been allowed to happen. Germany is totally controlled by Russia because they will be getting 60% to 70% of their energy from Russia and a new pipeline. You tell me if that’s appropriate because I think it’s not,” he said.
Mr Stoltenberg appeared to be taken aback by the ferocity of Mr Trump’s onslaught, insisting other member states were committed to paying more, while acknowledging the need to go further.
“I think that two world wars and the Cold War taught us that we are stronger together than apart,” he said.
The president however pressed on, demanding the Germans increase their military spending “immediately” rather than over a period of years.
“Germany is a rich country. They talk about they are going to increase it a tiny bit by 2030. They could increase it immediately tomorrow and have no problem. We are going to have to do something. We can’t put up with it,” he said.
“Germany is a captive of Russia. They got rid of their coal plants, they got rid of their nuclear – they are getting so much of the oil and gas from Russia.”
Without commenting directly on Germany, a senior UK Government official nevertheless expressed support for the greater diversification of energy sourcing in Europe.
“There is an issue in Europe seeking to diversify its sources of energy. Work is ongoing in that respect and we support that,” the official said.
Mr Trump’s comments appeared to refer to the Nord Stream 2 undersea pipeline which will bring gas from Russia to Germany’s Baltic coast, bypassing Eastern European nations such as Poland and Ukraine and doubling the amount of gas Russia can send directly to Germany.
Arriving for the summit, Mrs Merkel was adamant that Germany remained independent and able to make its own decisions.
“I’ve experienced myself a part of Germany controlled by the Soviet Union and I’m very happy today that we are united in freedom as the Federal Republic of Germany and can thus say that we can determine our own policies and make our own decisions and that’s very good,” she said.
Mrs May, meanwhile, emphasised that the UK continued to meet the alliance’s target of spending 2% of GDP on defence – one of just five member states to do so.
“Nato is as vital to us today as it ever has been. The UK’s commitment to it remains as steadfast as ever. We show that of course.
“We lead by example,” she said.
The British Prime Minister’s efforts to isolate Russia diplomatically following the Salisbury nerve agent attack have, however, been dented by Mr Trump’s decision to meet President Vladimir Putin in the Finnish capital Helsinki following his visit to Britain.
- Press Association