Washington Februrary 11 2024: Seeking a second presidency as the Republicans’ presumptive 2024 White House nominee, Donald Trump has said he would “encourage” Russia to attack any of the US’s Nato allies whom he considers to have not met their financial obligations.
The White House described the remarks as “appalling and unhinged”. Trump made the statement on Saturday during a campaign rally in Conway, South Carolina, ahead of the state’s Republican presidential preference primary on 24 February.
The former president has voiced misgivings about aid to Ukraine as it defends itself from the invasion launched by Russia in February 2022 – as well as to the existence of Nato, the 31-nation alliance which the US has committed to defending when necessary.
On Saturday, Trump claimed that during an unspecified Nato meeting he told a fellow head of state that the US under his leadership would not defend any countries who were “delinquent”.
“One of the presidents of a big country stood up and said, ‘Well, sir, if we don’t pay, and we’re attacked by Russia, will you protect us?’” Trump said, adding “I said, ‘You didn’t pay, you’re delinquent?’”
“No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You got to pay. You got to pay your bills.”
White House spokesperson Andrew Bates, asked about Trump’s comments, said, “encouraging invasions of our closest allies by murderous regimes is appalling and unhinged – and it endangers American national security, global stability and our economy at home.”
Nato countries agreed in 2014, after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, to halt the spending cuts they had made after the cold war and move toward spending 2% of their GDPs on defense by 2024.
During his 2016 campaign, Trump alarmed western allies by warning that the United States, under his leadership, might abandon its Nato treaty commitments and only come to the defence of countries that meet the alliance’s 2% target.
As of 2022, Nato reported that seven of what are now 31 Nato member countries were meeting that obligation – up from three in 2014. Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine has spurred additional military spending by some Nato members.
Trump’s comments come as Ukraine remains mired in its efforts to stave off Russia’s 2022 invasion and as Republicans in Congress have become increasingly skeptical of providing additional aid to the country as it struggles with stalled counteroffensives and weapons shortfalls.
Trump’s remarks on Saturday quickly raised alarm among many political pundits in the US.
“Sounds as if Trump is kind of encouraging Russia to attack our Nato allies,” David Corn – an MSNBC analyst and the Washington DC bureau chief of Mother Jones – said on X.
Meanwhile, conservative political commentator Alyssa Farah Griffin said Trump’s comments were “music” to the ears of Russian leader Vladimir Putin
On Saturday, the former president also celebrated the recent collapse of congressional legislation aiming to address the migration crisis on the US-Mexico border. The legislation was supported by Democratic incumbent Joe Biden, and Trump vowed that – if elected again – he would carry out “a massive deporation operation” on his first day back in the Oval Office.
Trump has been performing strongly in public opinion polls against Biden, who defeated the ex-president in the 2020 election. Nonetheless, he is grappling with more than 90 criminal charges.
The charges contained in four separate indictments across various jurisdictions allege that he tried to subvert the result of the election he lost, illegally retained government secrets after his presidency, and made illicit hush-money payments to a porn actor who claims to have had a sexual encounter with Trump.