BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany supports a dialogue between the United States and Russia, but Donald Trump must not ignore Russian actions in Crimea and Aleppo when he sits down with President Vladimir Putin, the German defense minister said on Friday.
Speaking at an event in Berlin, Ursula von der Leyen also said that NATO would be “dead” if any one of its members refused to come to the defense of another that was under attack.
German President Joachim Gauck and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier also called for the EU and NATO to present a unified front after the U.S. election and in the wake of Russia’s annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine in 2014.
“We must unite with our partners to oppose wars and conflicts and also Russia’s lust for power,” Gauck told visiting Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid. “Germany will stand by Estonia’s side when it comes to ensuring the security of the Baltic states.”
NATO is bolstering its forces in eastern Europe to reassure Estonia and the other ex-Soviet Baltic states, who worry that Moscow might try a repeat of its actions in Crimea.
Trump, who defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in the U.S. presidential election this week, praised Putin repeatedly during his campaign and questioned whether the United States should defend NATO allies that were not shouldering their fair share of the financial burden in the alliance.
“It is a good thing when the new American president immediately seeks a dialogue with the Russian president. It is good and it has our full support,” said von der Leyen, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives.
“What can’t happen is forgetting - forgetting the annexation of Crimea, forgetting the hybrid war in Ukraine which continues, forgetting the bombardment of Aleppo,” she said.
Trump’s election has deeply unsettled the government in Berlin, which has been the driving force behind EU sanctions against Russia for Putin’s military intervention in Ukraine. It has also strongly condemned the bombing of civilians in rebel-held areas of the Syrian city of Aleppo by the Syrian government and Russia, its ally.
Steinmeier told German broadcaster n-tv that the U.S. election was another wake-up call to Europe about the need for unity after Britain’s vote to leave the European Union in June.
“Fears that U.S. foreign policy could change are another reason that Europe should speak more with one voice in the future,” he said. “If Europe is complaining that Trump backs a radical immigration policy, that is another reason for us to clear up the remaining questions about our own policy.”
Russia is hoping the united front between Europe and Washington on sanctions will crumble under Trump. On Thursday, a Kremlin spokesman described Trump and Putin’s approach to foreign policy as “phenomenally close”.
Von der Leyen and Steinmeier both acknowledged that Trump’s victory meant Germany and Europe would likely have to take on more responsibility for their own defense.
But the defense minister said the German government was still struggling to answer the question of what a Trump presidency meant, saying “we know next to nothing”.
Reporting by Noah Barkin and Andrea Shalal; Editing by Mark Trevelyan