President Donald Trump set aside polite formalities at the start of a NATO summit in Brussels on Wednesday, descending into a deranged tirade, thrashing Germany and telling the alliance’s leader that the U.S. ally is “captive to Russia” because of a new pipeline to import Russian natural gas.
Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary general, looked taken aback at Trump’s blunt, public attack on a key U.S. ally. As a result of the gas deal, Trump claimed, “Germany is totally controlled by Russia.”
In case German Chancellor Angela Merkel might have missed Trump’s tirade, the American president posted a White House recording of the comments on Twitter.
Video of the entire exchange, posted on YouTube by both the White House and RT, the Kremlin-financed news network, showed that Trump also said Germany “should’ve never have been allowed” to strike a multibillion-dollar deal with Gazprom, the state-controlled Russian gas company.
The German government recently agreed to let Gazprom and its partners build the $10 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline under the Baltic Sea, which gives the Russian state firm a way to provide gas to Western Europe that does not rely on an older pipeline through Ukraine.
Bilateral Breakfast with NATO Secretary General in Brussels, Belgium… pic.twitter.com/l0EP3lzhCM
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 11, 2018
Merkel rejected Trump’s criticism ahead of a meeting with him on Wednesday afternoon.
“I’ve experienced myself a part of Germany controlled by the Soviet Union,” she told reporters, “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.”
The chancellor also rejected Trump’s claim that the U.S. “is protecting Germany,” by noting that “the largest part of our military capacity is offered to NATO and until today we have a strong presence in Afghanistan. In that way, we also protect the interests of the United States.”
Merkel vs Trump at NATO: Here again the German Chancellor's arrival statement with English subs. President Trump this morning called Germany 'Russian captive'. pic.twitter.com/wNPU8GIpj5
— DW | Europe (@dw_europe) July 11, 2018
In one part of his rant, Trump claimed, inaccurately, that Germany would be buying “70 percent of their energy from Russia.” According to the German government, just 9 percent of the country’s energy needs come from Russian natural gas.
Trump claims that Germany gets up to 70% of its energy from Russia. According to German government it’s 9%. #NatoSummit
— Stefan Leifert (@StefanLeifert) July 11, 2018
The American president also veered into fiction when he suggested that while Germany imported Russian gas, “you have a country like Poland that won’t accept the gas … because they don’t want to be captive to Russia.” As the Polish journalist Oskar Górzynski noted, Poland still gets most of its gas from Russia.
Trump again cites Poland as a positive example to shame Germany wrt its stance to Russia. It's not like he doesn't have a point regarding NS2, but this is confusing. (Keep in mind we do too still get majority of gas from Russia, even if we're diversifying) https://t.co/LELnW7Qp8I
— Oskar Górzyński (@OskarGie) July 11, 2018
Trump also complained that Germany and other members of the alliance, including France, spend less on defense than the United States. To make his point, Trump inaccurately referred to all American defense spending as if it were a contribution to NATO, and mistakenly described the failure of other European allies to spend more as an unpaid debt owed to the U.S.
If Trump’s aim is to shame Germany into paying more for its own defense, and not just to embarrass Merkel in hopes of denting her popularity, his intervention is unlikely to succeed.
Everyone talks about German defence spending. Here is Merkel making the case for it. Trump makes her job more difficult because he is highly unpopular in Germany and politicians don't want to be seen as giving in to his threats. https://t.co/79oIedTuoy
— Marcel Dirsus (@marceldirsus) July 11, 2018
Despite Trump’s complaints about Germany spending money on Russian gas, Mathieu von Rohr, the deputy foreign editor of the German weekly Der Spiegel, pointed out that Merkel “was instrumental in delivering the West’s response to the Ukraine crisis,” which involved sanctions on Russian businesses.
Von Rohr also tweeted that Russian President Vladimir Putin must be enjoying the spectacle of an American president driving a wedge into the military alliance dedicated to containing Russia.
Putin watching the NATO meeting pic.twitter.com/ylLp85fE8N
— Mathieu von Rohr (@mathieuvonrohr) July 11, 2018