U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday attacked Germany for being a “captive” of Russia in abrasive comments that took many people by surprise. All the leaders of Western Europe are in Brussels for a NATO summit where there has been an uneasy expectation that Trump was coming to the summit to cause trouble. He has been saying for months that he wants Europeans to pay more for military defense and the U.S. burden is too great.
“Merkel fires back at Trump: I have experienced a Germany that was under Soviet control”
— The Hill (@thehill) July 11, 2018
In her comments, Merkel made clear that that Germany is “united in freedom” and makes independent policies and decisions, saying in response to Trump:
“I have experienced myself how a part of Germany was controlled by the Soviet Union. 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.”
Trump’s public outburst against a strong U.S. ally which is also the most powerful country in Europe and in the NATO alliance shocked many people, even those who have come to have very low expectations for the U.S. president.
Before the summit began today Trump also told NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg that he believes it was wrong for Germany to back a new $11-billion Baltic Sea pipeline to import Russian gas. He said Germany had been slow to meet NATO defense spending targets, the purpose of which is 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 to reporters at the residence of the U.S. ambassador to Belgium.
Trump has a planned meeting with Merkel on Wednesday, which is sure to be interesting — and possibly very tense — after Trump’s provocative comments. As usual, Trump made his assertions without checking his facts, understanding the agreements in place, or knowing anything about history. For example, he grossly exaggerated Germany’s reliance on Russian energy and he incorrectly said that the German government was funding Russia’s pipeline. In fact the pipeline is a private commercial venture involving corporate money, not government money.
German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen also hit back at Trump’s remarks, saying:
“We have a lot of issues with Russia without any doubt. On the other hand, you should keep the communication line between countries or alliances and opponents without any question.”
Trump’s comments about the Russian pipeline came after Germany had announced they are closing coal and nuclear power plants on environmental grounds and will be relying more on natural gas. Trump said he thought that was “inappropriate:”
“We’re protecting Germany, we’re protecting France, we’re protecting all of these countries. And then numerous of the countries go out and make a pipeline deal with Russia where they’re paying billions of dollars into the coffers of Russia … I think that’s very inappropriate.”
After the NATO summit concludes Trump will hold another summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 16 in Helsinki, Finland.