US allies bristle at Trump’s ‘irresponsible’ Russia remarks

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The German president and the EU’s chief diplomat have joined other leaders in condemning former US president Donald Trump’s suggestion that he would allow Russia to attack any Nato member that failed to spend enough on defence.

Trump shocked European partners on Saturday when he said on the campaign trail that Moscow can do “whatever the hell they want” with Nato members that fail to meet the military alliance’s defence spending target of 2 per cent of gross domestic product.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the comments were “irresponsible”, telling reporters on Monday that Trump’s remarks “even play into Russia’s hands”. He added: “No one in our alliance can have an interest in that.”

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell described it as a “silly idea that comes during this electoral campaign in the United States”.

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“Nato cannot be an à la carte military alliance,” Borrell told reporters on Monday. “Nato cannot be an alliance that works depending on the humour of the president of the United States . . . No, come on, let’s be serious.”

A White House spokesperson on Sunday described Trump’s remarks as “appalling and unhinged”, while European Council president Charles Michel said they were “reckless” and served only the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg warned that such comments undermined “all of our security, including that of the US” and put American and European soldiers at risk.

“I expect that regardless of who wins the presidential election, the US will remain a strong and committed Nato ally,” he said.

Stoltenberg added that the alliance remained “ready and able to defend all allies”. He managed to keep Trump within the Nato fold during his presidency from 2017 to 2021, despite the Republican politician threatening to leave the military alliance and scolding Germany for not meeting the 2 per cent target.

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While Germany and other major European economies, including France, are still below the target, they have increased spending on defence following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine nearly two years ago, and are expected to meet the goal in the coming years.

Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said Trump’s remarks were “something to maybe wake up some of the allies who haven’t done that much”.

In his speech on Saturday, Trump seemed to persist in his misconception that Nato allies had unpaid defence “bills”, rather than defence spending targets.

Speaking in South Carolina, Trump said he told a Nato leader he would “not protect” them from Russia if they “didn’t pay” and were “delinquent”.

“I would not protect you,” Trump said. “In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You’ve got to pay. You’ve got to pay your bills.”

The chair of the Munich Security Conference, a European defence policy forum that begins this Friday, noted that Trump had made such “erratic remarks” in the past. “He is how he is,” said Christoph Heusgen.

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In Brussels, a spokesperson for the European Commission said: “We are setting up a structural internal process to prepare for all possible outcomes of the United States’ presidential elections.”