Donald Trump has launched a blistering attack on Germany, denouncing it as a “captive” of Russia, as he ramped up demands for Nato allies to pay more for their collective defence.
Arriving in Brussels for a two-day alliance summit, the US president 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 to build a new pipeline meant Germany was now “totally controlled” by 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”.
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.
“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.
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.”
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.
“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 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.