Germany dismisses Trump criticism, says it's not a captive of Russia

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U.S. President Donald Trump talks to German Chancellor Angela Merkel before the first working session of the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, July 7, 2017.

Germany can take President Donald Trump’s criticisms in its stride, the country’s Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen told CNBC Wednesday.

Trump kicked off this week’s NATO summit with scathing words for Europe’s economic powerhouse, calling it “captive” to Russia over its plans for an $11 billion gas pipeline that would connect the two countries and increase Germany’s reliance on Russian energy supply.

“I think we can cope with it,” von der Leyen said in response to the berating from the U.S. president, speaking to CNBC's Hadley Gamble on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium.

“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.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel weighed in later in the day, echoing some of the defense minister's themes.

“I have experienced myself how a part of Germany was controlled by the Soviet Union," Merkel said. "I am very happy that today we are united in freedom, the Federal Republic of Germany. Because of that we can say that we can make our independent policies and make independent decisions."

She added that Germany is NATO's second-largest provider of troops and maintains engagement in Afghanistan alongside U.S. forces. Germany's parliament in March agreed to increase troop presence in the war-torn country from 980 to 1,300, with the acknowledgement that they would remain committed to Afghanistan for the foreseeable future.

Spending targets

Tensions are high among the 29-nation bloc as months of negative rhetoric from Trump have thrown the U.S. commitment to its allies into doubt. The president spent much of his morning in Brussels doubling down on demands that all member countries commit to the 2 percent defense spending target to which they are formally committed, claiming that NATO has been "raising money" only because of him.

Germany is still far from that target — in May, Berlin pledged to increase its defense spending to 1.5 percent of GDP by 2025, up from a low of 1.1 percent in 2015. The White House has accused European allies of “freeriding” on Washington’s defense capabilities, as only five of the alliance’s members actually meet the 2 percent target.

On this point, the defense minister conceded that Trump's emphasis on defense spending was valid.

"We are in good shape where overall readiness is concerned," von der Leyen said in response to a question about the German military's defense capabilities. "We are investing heavily in the German armed forces and other European countries too, because the armed forces need it ... So we improved a lot but there’s still work to be done. On that point the American friends have a point."

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