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.
Mr. Trump did not make clear whether he ever intended to follow through on such a threat or what that would mean for the alliance, but his comment at a campaign event in South Carolina — a variation of one he has made before to highlight his negotiation skills — is likely to cause concern among NATO member states, which are already very nervous about the prospect of a Trump return.
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 as European officials have expressed concerns over possible Russian aggression on NATO’s Eastern side.
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.