U.S. President Donald J. Trump has unleashed blistering criticism of the Russian Nord Stream 2 pipeline project and the German government that supports it during a July 11 breakfast meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels.
His stance on the issue will win favor in Ukraine, which is trying to stop the gas pipeline that bypasses the nation, possibly depriving the government of up to $2 billion in gas transit revenues annually.
“It’s very sad when Germany makes a massive oil and gas deal with Russia, where you’re supposed to be guarding against Russia, and Germany goes out and pays billions and billions of dollars a year to Russia,” Trump said in a video of the meeting he posted on Twitter. The remarks were also reported by journalists present at the meeting.
“So we’re protecting Germany, we’re protecting France, we’re protecting all of these countries…so we’re supposed to protect you against Russia, and they’re paying billions of dollars to Russia, and I think that’s very inappropriate,” Trump continued.
He also indirectly referenced the role of former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder as chairman of the board of Nord Stream and Russian oil and gas company Rosneft.
“Ultimately, Germany will have almost 70 percent of their country controlled by Russia with natural gas,” Trump said. “So you tell me: is that appropriate?”
As of 2015, Russia provides roughly 40 percent of Germany’s natural gas supply, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The completion of Nord Stream 2 would concentrate 80 percent of Russian gas transit to Europe into the Germany route, Swedish economist Anders Aslund has written.
Trump said that the pipeline project “should never have been allowed to happen” and described it as “a very bad thing for NATO.”
Trump also stated that Germany is paying just over 1 percent of gross domestic product into the transatlantic military alliance, while the United States is paying 4.2 percent.
Making NATO allies fulfill their commitment to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense has been a repeated theme in Trump’s criticism of NATO.
At the breakfast meeting, Trump called on NATO countries to step up defense spending immediately, and suggested that Germany, a “rich country,” could increase its spending “tomorrow” without difficulty.
In response to Trump’s comments, Germany’s defense minister, Ursula von der Leyen, said that her country can “cope with” the criticism. Trump has a point about defense spending, but Germany is already investing heavily in its military and that of other countries, von der Leyen told CNBC.
“If we look at the gas pipeline, Germany is an independent country where energy supply is concerned, we diversify, but the main overarching topic is the summit — we want a summit that sends out the message of unity,” she said.
Trump is in Brussels as part of a 7-day trip that will also take him to Britain and then to Helsinki, Finland for a July 16 meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin.
The NATO and Helsinki meetings have stoked fears that Trump would damage U.S. ties with its European partners while taking a conciliatory stance with Moscow.
As a result, Trump’s criticism of Nord Stream 2 comes as surprising development.
The pipeline would run from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea, thereby circumventing Ukraine. That would potentially deny Kyiv gas transit fees that comprise at least 2 percent of gross domestic product.
Some analysts fear the pipeline could have even broader implications for Ukrainian and European security. Energy analyst Ariel Cohen suggests that Ukraine’s pipeline infrastructure helps prevent an all-out war between Kyiv and Moscow.
After Nord Stream 2, “Russia can do in Ukraine whatever it wants and not suffer any serious economic consequences,” he said at a conference in Washington on June 14.
This story has been updated to include comments by the German defense minister.