Former President Donald J. Trump said on Saturday that, while president, he told the leaders of NATO countries that he would “encourage” Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” to countries that had not paid the money they owed to the military alliance.
In repeating a claim he has made previously to highlight his negotiation skills, Mr. Trump did not make clear that while there has been a spending-related dispute, it was not about an unpaid debt to NATO, but over European countries meeting their spending commitments to their own militaries. Some NATO members are spending below an unofficial commitment to spend 2 percent of their economic output on defense.
Mr. Trump’s suggestion that he would encourage Russian aggression against allies of the United States — for any reason — comes as Republicans in Congress have pushed back against more aid for Ukraine in its war against Russia, and is likely to cause concern among NATO member states, which are already very nervous about the prospect of a Trump return.
Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, dismissed those warnings as “threat mongering” in an interview with Tucker Carlson, the former Fox News host, that aired on Thursday. “We have no interest in Poland, Latvia or anywhere else,” Mr. Putin said.
But he has also called on the United States to “make an agreement” to end the war in Ukraine by ceding Ukrainian territory to Russia, comments that were seen by some as an appeal to American conservatives to block further involvement in the war.
Some European officials and foreign policy experts have said they are concerned that Russia could invade a NATO nation after its war with Ukraine concludes, fears that they say are heightened by the possibility of Mr. Trump returning to the presidency.