President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel appear headed for a one-on-one confrontation on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Brussels after Trump slammed Germany as being controlled by Russia.
Trump and Merkel are expected to have a “pull aside” meeting in which Trump will bring up his contention that Russia, through its supply of oil and gas to Germany, controls the country’s politics, The New York Times’ White House correspondent Julia Davis reported on July 11, 2018.
“Germany is totally controlled by Russia, because they will be getting from 60-70% of their energy from Russia and a new pipeline,” Trump said at a working breakfast with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
“You tell me if that’s appropriate, because I think it’s not, and I think it’s a very bad thing for NATO, and I don’t think it should have happened,” Trump said. “And I think we have to talk to Germany about it.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and President Donald Trump.
(White House photo)
A Reuters review of Germany’s official data shows that 35.3% of German imports of oil and gas come from Russia, but the new Nord Stream 2 pipeline project is expected to increase such energy trade.
Trump went on to bash Germany’s defense spending, which stands at 1.24% of its gross domestic product. The country has committed to reaching 2% by 2024, but Trump has pushed it to get there sooner.
“I think it’s very unfair to our country,” Trump said. “These countries have to step it up not over a 10-year period — have to step it up immediately. Germany is a rich country. They talk about they’re going to increase it a tiny bit by 2030. Well, they could increase it immediately.”
Merkel with Trump during the G7 Leaders Summit in Canada on June 9.
(German Federal Government)
Merkel fires back
Just hours after Trump’s comments, Merkel fired back, saying she lived in East Germany under Soviet control and that things are different now.
“I am very happy that today we are united in freedom, the Federal Republic of Germany,” she said. “Because of that we can say that we can make our independent policies and make independent decisions. That is very good, especially for people in eastern Germany.”
Merkel also defended Germany’s role in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, pointing out that German troops were still fighting for US interests in Afghanistan after the US invoked NATO’s mutual-defense clause following the September 11, 2001, attacks.
“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 toward Afghanistan,” she said. “In that we also defend the interests of the United States.”
Trump found Merkel’s weak spot, and he’s hammering it
Merkel faces serious difficulties in meeting Germany’s defense-spending commitments to NATO. They are unpopular domestically, and she is already struggling to stay atop a shaky coalition government.
At the same time, Germany’s military is in a poor state, and the country’s own defense minister has criticized a lack of readiness and defense spending. In May 2018, the German news outlet Der Spiegel reported that only four of Germany’s 128 Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets were ready to fly combat missions.
While the US has moved to increase its troop presence in Germany and Eastern Europe as a counter to Russia, Merkel’s government has sought to increase some energy purchases from Russia, the very force NATO seeks to defend against.
But as Mark D. Simakovsky, an Atlantic Council expert who previously served as the Europe/NATO chief of staff in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy, told Business Insider, Trump is unpopular in Europe, and that could make upping defense spending even harder for Merkel.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.