PARIS — Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk was traveling to Paris and Berlin on Monday in a diplomatic effort to rebuild key alliances as fears grow that former President Donald Trump could return to power in the United States and give Russia a free hand to expand its aggression in Europe.
The meetings on Monday come after Trump shocked many in Europe on the weekend by inviting Russia to invade any NATO member not spending enough on its own defenses.
“These comments are irresponsible and even play into Russia’s hands,” German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Monday during a visit to Cyprus, remarks carried by the German dpa news agency. “And no one in our alliance can have an interest in that.”
The words were particularly shocking for front-line NATO countries like Poland, which has endured Russian control and occupation, and where anxieties run high over the war just across its eastern border in Ukraine.
Trump’s remarks, made as the Republican frontrunner was campaigning, created fears that if he is re-elected, he could embolden Russia to attack other countries following its invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking Saturday at a rally in Conway, South Carolina, Trump recalled how as president he told an unidentified NATO member that he would “encourage” Russia to do as it wishes in cases of NATO allies who are “delinquent.”
“‘You didn’t pay? You’re delinquent?'” Trump recounted saying. “‘No I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You gotta pay. You gotta pay your bills.'”
NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg issued a statement Sunday saying that Trump’s remarks put American troops and their allies at greater risk.
NATO does not require its 31 members to pay bills, but they are expected to invest a certain percentage of their own budgets — 2% of their gross domestic product — on defense. Some countries, like Poland, where security fears run deep, have long met the target. Poland has even gone far beyond, ramping up spending as a result of Russian aggression in Ukraine.
Germany, still processing guilt over the Nazi era, has embraced a more pacifistic ethos in past decades and underspends. The country was a frequent target of Trump’s ire during his presidency. But Berlin announced announced plans to step up military spending after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and plans to hit 2% this year.
France’s military budget has grown in recent years and now reached the level of about 2% of its GDP.
Tusk returned to power as prime minister in his central European nation in December after eight years of rule by a national conservative government that often took a conflictual stance with European allies, particularly Germany. As a result, Warsaw’s influence in Europe diminished.
Tusk was to meet in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron and then head to Berlin with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
Meanwhile, the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Poland are to meet in the Paris suburb of La Celle-Saint-Cloud as they seek to revive the so-called Weimar Triangle, a political format that has been dormant for years.
The Weimar Triangle was created in 1991 as Poland was emerging from decades of communism as a platform for political cooperation among the three nations.