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20th Jul 2018

US mauls Germany over Russia pipeline

  • Trump (r) launched his NS2 attack at a breakfast with Stoltenberg (l) (Photo: nato.int)

US leader Donald Trump, backed by Poland, has begun the Nato summit with a tirade against Germany's plan to build a pipeline with Russia.

"Germany is a captive of Russia," Trump said to Nato head Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels on Wednesday (11 July).

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  • NS2 would increase EU dependency on Russian gas, while weakening Poland and Ukraine (Photo: nord-stream2.com)

"Germany's totally controlled by Russia because they'll be getting from 60 to 70% of their energy from Russia, and a new pipeline ... and I think it's a very bad thing for Nato," he said.

"We [the US] are supposed to protect you [Europe] from Russia, but Germany is making pipeline deals with Russia … explain that", he added.

"We're supposed to be guarding against Russia and Germany goes out and pays billions and billions of dollars a year to Russia," he said.

Trump was referring to the construction of the Nord Stream 2 (NS2) gas pipeline by Germany and Russia.

He was loose with the facts, given that Russian oil and gas account for just 20 percent of Germany's energy mix and that NS2 is being financed by private firms from Austria, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK, not by German public money.

His comment on Berlin being Moscow's "captive" also overlooked Germany's leadership on EU economic sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

The remarks, delivered on the morning of a two-day Nato summit, met with a swift rebuttal by German chancellor Angela Merkel.

"I experienced first hand that a part of Germany was occupied by the Soviet Union. It's good that we can now make our own decisions," she said upon arrival at the Nato event.

Trump was also criticised by European Commission deputy head Valdis Dombrovskis, who said: "We find that kind of rhetoric unhelpful."

But the US leader caught German defence minister, Ursula von der Leyen, off guard.

"I'm sorry, Germany is what please?", she said at a pre-summit conference in Brussels when a journalist asked for her reaction.

"I don't even know what he [Trump] means by that, it's hard to say," she added.

"If there's any country in the region [Europe] which has noticed Russia's change in behaviour … that's Germany, of course," she said.

Von der Leyen defended the relatively low level of German defence spending - Trump's main complaint against Berlin.

But she voiced concern about Nato's future, given the tone of the debate.

"Discussions are OK, that's what democracy is all about. The questions is: are we going to let these debates weaken our commitment?," she said.

"Yes, we're worried [about Nato], but on the other hand we start to realise how precious this alliance is," she added.

Pipelines for war

Trump's assault on NS2 pleased Poland, which sees the pipeline as a strategic threat, however.

"NS1 helped Russia to modernise its army, then attack Georgia and Ukraine and violate international law. NS2 would also help Russia to pursue revisionist policy. The question is what are we going to do about it?," Polish foreign minister Jacek Czaputowicz said alongside Von der Leyen at the pre-summit conference, referring to an existing German-Russian pipeline called Nord Stream 1 (NS1).

The Polish minister echoed Trump in saying Nato needed the US to protect Europe against Russia's "aggressive policies".

"Only the US can guarantee the security of countries such as Poland, on the eastern flank," he said.

He also repeated calls for the US to create a permanent military base in Poland, despite German concern that this could mean relocating tens of thousands of US troops from Germany.

"We don't want to move US forces from Germany, but we do want extra capabilities on our territory," Czaputowicz said.

Meanwhile, Stoltenberg, the Nato chief, tried to play down disagreements as the summit got under way.

Trump juice

"We [Trump and himself] had excellent orange juice and toast. We had a good breakfast. Paid by the US," he said in a joke on the defence spending dispute.

But with Trump speaking fondly of Russian leader Vladimir Putin prior to meeting him in Helsinki on Monday despite his NS2 comments, Stoltenberg indicated that other allies, as well as Germany, were increasingly confused by US foreign policy.

"I think that [Nato] leaders are ... looking forward to your thoughts about your meeting with president Putin," Stoltenberg said.

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