Ahead of summits with NATO and Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump used a Montana campaign rally on Thursday to rail against Germany and to defend his “nice” approach to the former KGB spy – stances that conflicted with much tougher talk from his own emissaries to the western alliance and in Moscow.
Mimicking the carping about his supposedly naïve approach to Putin, he said, “‘You know President Putin is KGB’ and this and that. You know, Putin is fine. He’s fine. We’re all people. Will I be prepared? I’ve been preparing for this stuff all my life….”
Hours earlier, Trump’s ambassador to NATO, former Texas senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, called Russia one of the “major threats” facing the United States. And she struck a conciliatory tone toward the alliance. As a candidate, Trump called NATO “obsolete” and as president, he has repeatedly complained that some members don’t pay as much as they’ve promised.
“Every one of our allies — 100 percent — are increasing defense spending,” Hutchison said on a White House briefing call with reporters. “That is something that we will talk about as an achievement, but also that we need to do more….”
From Moscow, U.S. ambassador Jon Huntsman — who likewise has been far more critical of Russian aggression than Trump — said on the same briefing call that Kremlin meddling in the U.S. election will be a central topic when Trump and Putin meet. Trump, he said, will have “eyes wide open” about Putin, and will “hold Russia accountable for its malign activities.”
These were not Trump’s talking points in Montana.
“I’ll tell NATO, you got to start paying your bills,” he told the cheering crowd. Complaining about trade deficits with Europe, he said, “on top of that, they kill us on NATO.” The United States pays 4 percent of its GDP. Germany pays 1 percent, he said. “And I said you know Angela [Merkel], I can’t guarantee it, but we’re protecting you, and it means a lot more to you…. I don’t know how much protection we get from protecting you.”