Trump was subjected to sharp criticism from Western officials because of his statements, in which he said that he would not provide protection to countries that did not meet the target set by NATO for defense spending, and that he would encourage Russia to attack those countries.

At the weekend, the statements of Trump, the most prominent candidate for the Republican Party's presidential nomination, cast a shadow over the Munich Security Conference, a large annual gathering of politicians, military officials, and diplomats, which is often a barometer of US-European relations.

European leaders are concerned not only about the future of NATO if Trump wins over current President Joe Biden in the elections scheduled for November, but also about the delay of a $60 billion aid package for Ukraine in the US Congress, as Republicans demand security measures on the border. To approve the draft law.

Ukrainian and Western leaders stress the importance of the aid package at a time when Kiev's forces are facing difficulties nearly two years after the Russian invasion.

On Sunday, Moscow announced its complete control over the destroyed town of Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine.

European leaders are communicating with members of the US Congress, business leaders, and research centers as part of their efforts to influence Trump's camp, efforts that began even a week before his controversial statements.

Among the arguments presented by European leaders to support their point of view is that European countries are spending more on defense and intend to do more, and that such spending and financial aid to Ukraine generates billions of dollars for American arms companies, and that defending Europe reflects the strength of the United States vis-à-vis China, which It was a fundamental focus of Trump's foreign policy.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told the conference, which was being held at the luxurious Bayerischer Hof Hotel and attended by dozens of American lawmakers: “We Europeans must pay greater attention to our security now and in the future.”

"The willingness to do this is very great," he added.

Special interests

Schulz and other European leaders, such as Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, the favorite to be the next head of NATO, have stressed that they are becoming more serious about defense because it is in their own interests, not because of Trump.

But they aim to convince Trump and his followers that remaining in NATO, as he did during his presidency despite his public criticism, would be beneficial to them as well.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre told Reuters in Munich: “It is in the United States’ interest to be a member of NATO with strong allies who can strengthen American influence.”

Late last month, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg traveled to the United States on a visit aimed in part at convincing the Trump camp to remain in the alliance and support Ukraine.

Stoltenberg spoke at the Heritage Foundation, a Trump-backed think tank in Washington, and visited the Lockheed Martin plant in Alabama that makes Gavlin anti-tank missiles.

"Most of the money allocated to Ukraine ends up in the United States through the purchase of weapons. For example, Gavlin missiles produced by the United States," Stoltenberg said in Munich.

He referred to US concerns about China and said, “The United States represents 25 percent of the global GDP. Together with our allies in NATO, we represent 50 percent of the global GDP and 50 percent of the global military power. If we maintain our unity, we will be safe.” .

European leaders say their rise in defense spending reflects a view that Russia now poses a much greater security threat.

They added that it also reflects a growing view among European governments that they will have to bear more responsibility for their security in the coming years, regardless of who wins the next US presidential election.

Latvian Foreign Minister Krisjanis Karins said: "I think that over time the United States will be less inclined to feel that it has to fully guarantee European security."

The alliance says 18 of its 31 member states are expected to meet the target of spending two percent of their gross domestic product this year on defence, up from 11 in 2023.

Among the countries expected to achieve this goal are Germany and France, the two largest economic powers in the European Union.

According to NATO estimates, the United States will spend about 3.5 percent of its gross domestic product on defense in 2023.