President Trump kicked off Wednesday’s two-day NATO summit with a scathing criticism of the alliance delivered in front of Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, singling out Germany for particular criticism.
“Germany is totally controlled by Russia,” the president said in his unexpected remarks during a breakfast Wednesday morning. “I think it’s 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.”
“It’s very unfair to our country, it’s very unfair to our taxpayers,” Trump added of the $11 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline deal between Germany and state-owned Russian energy giant Gazprom, which is backed by Chancellor Angela Merkel. “We can’t put up with it.”
Merkel defended Germany’s record in response, saying the country is free and not controlled by Russia or anyone else.
“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, according to the Associated Press.
She also pushed back against Trump’s claim, repeated Wednesday, that her country and other NATO members do not contribute enough to the alliance.
“Germany does a lot for NATO,” she said. “Germany is the second-largest provider of troops, the largest part of our military capacity is offered to NATO, and until today we have a strong engagement towards Afghanistan. In that we also defend the interests of the United States.”
“NATO is the most successful alliance in history,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote on Twitter after Trump’s comments, adding that all NATO allies have committed to increases in defense spending. “Weakness provokes; strength and cohesion protects. This remains our bedrock belief.”
Democrats immediately blasted Trump’s criticisms of NATO, accusing him of being motivated by a desire to cozy up to Russian president Vladimir Putin. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi issued a joint statement calling the president’s “brazen insults and denigration” of Germany an “embarrassment,” and a “profoundly disturbing signal” that Trump is more loyal to Putin than to America’s NATO allies.
Trump plans to hold his first official summit with Putin on Monday in Helsinki, Finland.