Trump says he would encourage Russia to attack Nato allies who pay too little

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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 Joe Biden White House immediately rebuked the former president’s comments, saying in a statement: “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.”

Related: Nato chief says Trump remarks may put US and EU lives at risk

Jens Stoltenberg, Nato’s secretary-general, also lambasted Trump’s comments. “Nato remains ready and able to defend all allies,” Stoltenberg said in a statement.

“Any suggestion that allies will not defend each other undermines all of our security, including that of the US, and puts American and European soldiers at increased risk. I expect that regardless of who wins the presidential election the US will remain a strong and committed Nato ally.”

On the other hand, the former Republican New Jersey governor Chris Christie said he thought it was “right for a president to say to a Nato member, ‘Hey, you’ve got to pay the dues you need to pay’.

“But the problem with Donald Trump is he can’t just stop there,” Christie said on Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press. “He’s got to say, ‘I would encourage Russia to do whatever the hell they wanted to you’. That is absolutely inappropriate for a president of the United States or a candidate for president of the United States to be saying.”

Christie argued that Trump’s comments about Russia were consistent with his “love” for the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, and other dictators.

Another Republican who spoke in support of Trump’s comments was Florida’s US senator Marco Rubio. Rubio sought to downplay the meaning of Trump’s remarks, made two days after the former Fox News host and Trump ally Tucker Carlson conducted a lengthy, virtually free-ride interview with Putin.

“Trump was talking about a story that happened in the past when he was president,” Rubio told CNN. “He didn’t pull us out of Nato, and American troops are stationed throughout Europe then as they are today.

“Donald Trump is telling a story,” Rubio continued. “He’s not a member of the council on foreign relations. He doesn’t talk like a traditional politician, and you’d think people could have figured that out by now. He said Nato was broke or busted until he took over because people weren’t paying their dues and he used leverage to get them to step up to the plate.”

Yet one conservative who stood out for expressing criticism of Trump was the political commentator Alyssa Farah Griffin, who said Trump’s comments must have been “music” to the ears of Putin.

Trump 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 international alliance which the US has committed to defending when necessary.

His comments on Saturday came as US senators debated a bill to provide $60bn to Ukraine, $14bn in security assistance to Israel, $9bn for humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza, the West Bank and Ukraine, and $4.8bn to support allies in the Indo-Pacific.

But the bill faces opposition from some Republicans who want to see the foreign aid package accompanied by provisions to secure the US-Mexico border, rapidly becoming one of the defining issues of the 2024 presidential election.

Some of those same lawmakers now hope to offer their own amendments to stem the flow of migrants into the United States, while others want to forgo humanitarian assistance provisions and restrict foreign aid to weapons and materiel.

If it passes the Senate on Sunday, it will then go before the House, where the Republicans have a slim majority. The House has already rejected a standalone bill for aid to Israel. The House speaker, Mike Johnson, has signaled he could split the aid into separate bills.

“I’ve made very clear that you have to address these issues on their own merits,” Johnson said last week.

Related: Trump told European leaders that US ‘will never come to help you’

Even before Trump’s Nato comments, European capitals were adjusting their expectations of US support and cooperation in case of a second Trump presidency.

During a 70-minute stump speech in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Trump recalled telling an unnamed European head of state at an unspecified Nato meeting while he was president that the US would not defend any countries who were “delinquent”.

While some immediately questioned whether the purported conversation occurred, Trump continued: “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?’

“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.”

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 sceptical of providing additional aid to the country as it struggles with stalled counteroffensives and weapons shortfalls.

On Saturday, Trump also celebrated the recent collapse of congressional legislation aiming to address the migration crisis on the US-Mexico border. The legislation was supported by the Democratic incumbent, Joe Biden, and Trump vowed that – if elected again – he would carry out “a massive deportation 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.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

  • The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report