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Estonia says Russia is preparing for military confrontation with the West

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EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and other European defense and foreign ministers on February 12 joined a torrent of criticism over former US President Donald Trump’s comments downplaying the United States’ commitment to the NATO security framework in Europe.

“Let’s be serious. NATO cannot be an a la carte military alliance, it cannot be a military alliance that operates according to the mood of the American president” on a day-to-day basis, Borrell said after Trump suggested that under his administration the United States might fail to defend NATO allies that have not spent enough on defense.

Borrell added that he would not continue to comment on “any stupid idea” emerging from the US presidential election campaign.

Trump, the Republican front-runner in the 2024 race, sent chills to European allies when he told a Feb. 10 campaign rally that he would “encourage” Russia to attack any NATO country who does not meet their financial obligations.

U.S. President Joe Biden called Trump’s comments “appalling and dangerous” in a Feb. 11 statement, joining several European defense and foreign ministers who responded over the weekend.

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Reactions continued on February 12, with Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren saying Trump’s comment was “exactly what Putin likes to hear.”

Ollongren called the comment “disturbing” and said it was not the first time Trump had made a comment along these lines.

While in office, Trump – who was defeated by Biden in the 2020 election – often expressed doubts about the need for NATO and repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the alliance if members did not were not paying what he considered their fair share for their defense.

Ollongren pushed back against Trump, emphasizing that NATO’s strength lies in its unity.

“If we are not united, it makes us weaker. And we know that is what Putin is looking for,” he told Reuters on February 12.

The principle of collective defense – the idea that an attack on one member is considered an attack on all and would trigger collective action in self-defense – is enshrined in Article 5 of NATO’s founding treaty. It is considered the hallmark of the NATO alliance.

Ollongren also noted that most NATO allies were close to or had met the defense budget spending target of 2% of gross domestic product by 2024. NATO allies agreed to this target by 2014.

German Finance Minister Christian Lindner also reacted to Trump’s comments. Speaking in London on February 12, Lindner said the transatlantic partnership would continue.

“Regardless of who occupies the White House, we have a primary interest in continuing to cooperate on both sides of the Atlantic, economically, politically and also on security,” he said.

Lindner said Britain and Germany shared similar challenges in building free trade capabilities.

The dialogue “is particularly important” after Trump’s statements, Lindner said before meeting his British counterpart Jeremy Hunt.

“We face major challenges as European members of NATO,” Lindner said, adding that peace and the free trade order in Europe had been endangered by the invasion of Ukraine by Russia in 2022.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier echoed other EU leaders, saying the statements “are irresponsible and even play into Russia’s hands.”

Meanwhile, on February 12, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk discussed strengthening security cooperation in Europe with the leaders of Germany and France, as fears grow that Trump’s possible return to the White House could threaten the Western solidarity against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Tusk said the philosophy at the heart of relations between the European Union and NATO was based on “one for all, all for one”.

Speaking in Paris, he said Poland was “ready to fight for this security.” Later in Berlin, Tusk welcomed a “clear statement that we are ready to cooperate” on the defense of Europe.

With reporting from Reuters, AP and AFP

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