22nd Mar 2018

Russia 'weaponising' refugees against EU

  • Breedlove (c) with German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen (Photo: 1GNC Munster)

Russia is “weaponising migration” as part of a broader campaign to extend its influence in Europe, Nato’s military chief has said, echoing German and Turkish concern.

Philip Breedlove, a US general who commands Nato forces forces in Europe, spoke out on Tuesday (1 March) in a hearing with the Senate’s armed services committee in Washington.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Build-up of refugees in Greece risks creating political and humanitarian crisis (Photo: Reuters)

“Together, Russia and the Assad regime are deliberately weaponising migration in an attempt to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve,” he said, referring to Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian leader and Russian ally.

Commenting on their “indiscriminate” fire on civilians in north Syria, he said: “I can't find any other reason for [that] other than to cause refugees to be on the move and make them someone else's problem.”

He issued the same warning to the House armed services committee last week.

The number of people fleeing to Europe in January and February, not long after Russia began air strikes, reached 131,000 - vastly higher than for the same period last year - EU figures say.

EU discord on how to handle the flow of people has prompted unilateral border restrictions and concern over a humanitarian crisis in Greece.

If the Russian air support lets Assad conquer the city of Aleppo in north Syria, Turkish diplomats say “hundreds of thousands” more will come, creating a “security nightmare”.

Norbert Roettgen, a German MP who chairs the Bundestag’s foreign affairs committee, recently told EUobserver that the refugee crisis was “a welcome side effect” for Russia.

“The addressee of this problem is the EU as a whole,” he said.

Selim Yenel, Turkey’s ambassador to the EU, told EUobserver: “If they [Aleppo refugees] go into the EU and let’s say that our ‘action plan’ [on migration] doesn’t work, then what happens in Europe - shutting down borders, chaos, [German leader Angela] Merkel weakening, losing elections, the right coming back to power?”.

Worse before better

Breedlove said on Tuesday the problems would “get worse before they get better” and that refugee numbers were likely to “continue to rise in 2016.”

“There is a concern that criminals, terrorists, foreign fighters and other extremist organisations will recruit from the primarily Muslim populations arriving in Europe, potentially increasing the threat of terrorist attacks,” he said.

“Continued weak economic growth [in Europe] … keeps unemployment rates high, specifically among young migrants susceptible to radicalisation,” he added.

“Local nationalists opposed to a large-scale influx of foreigners could [also] become increasingly violent,” he said.

Jack Reed, a Democratic party senator, told the US hearing: “The security implications of this [refugee] crisis are enormous, threatening to unravel a vision of Europe that has permeated the last two decades.”

’New normal’

Breedlove said Russia’s refugee tactics are part of a broader strategy to restore Soviet-era influence.

He said Russia was using the old and new conflicts in Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine to coerce its neighbours.

“We must not allow Russian actions in Syria to serve as a strategic distraction that leads the international community to give tacit acceptance to the situation in Ukraine as the ‘new normal’,” he said.

Noting that Nato powers and Russia had been on a path of reconciliation in the 1990s, he said: “Europe is not the same continent it was when I took command.”

’Barrage of lies'

Konstantin Dolgov, a senior Russian diplomat, said in a statement on Tuesday that the refugee crisis had “naturally resulted from the irresponsible and short-sighted interference of Western countries in the internal affairs of sovereign states in the [Middle East] region”.

Sergey Kopyrkin, Russia’s deputy EU ambassador, in separate remarks said there’s a “real risk” of an “enduring rift across the European continent”.

Breedlove in his Senate testimony also warned of the dangerous appeal of Russia’s “false narratives”.

“Russia overwhelms the information space with a barrage of lies that must be addressed by the United States more aggressively in both public and private sectors to effectively expose the false narratives,” he said.


Russia's Syria tactics imperil EU-Turkey migrant plan

Events in Syria pose questions if the EU-Turkey migrant plan is still relevant. They show the need for solidarity. But there’s little of that and few options on how to stop Turkey's “nightmare.”

EU, US and Russia to 'pause' Syria war

Syria hostilities are to “pause” in one week and aid agencies are to have full access under a new accord which, Germany "hopes," will lead to fewer people fleeing to Europe.

EU to extend sanctions on Putin 'cronies'

EU states will, next week, extend the life of blacklists of Russians and Ukrainians deemed responsible for the Ukraine conflict or for plundering Ukraine’s treasury.

France puts spotlight on Ukraine in Russia peace talks

Paris talks saw France and Russia put pressure on Ukraine on ceasefire compliance despite US reports of Russian "violence". Separately, Ukraine was told it will not join the EU for at least 20 years.


Four years on – but we will not forget illegally-occupied Crimea

Together with many other partners, including the United States, Canada and Norway, the European Union has implemented a policy of non-recognition and sanctions regimes, targeting people and entities that have promoted Russia's illegal annexation.

News in Brief

  1. Brussels condemns tear gas in Kosovo parliament
  2. Finland pays billionaire €400,000 in EU farm subsidies
  3. 44 leaders sign up for Africa free trade area deal
  4. British 'blue' passports to be made in EU
  5. EU to have 'immediate' trade talks with Trump
  6. Separatist activist renounces Catalonia leadership candidacy
  7. EU puts conditions on Bayer-Monsanto merger
  8. Hard Brexit would hit poorer Irish households hardest

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EUobserverStart a Career in EU Media. Apply Now to Become Our Next Sales Associate
  2. EUobserverHiring - Finance Officer With Accounting Degree or Experience - Apply Now!
  3. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  4. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  5. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  6. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  7. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  8. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  10. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights
  11. ACCAAppropriate Risk Management is Crucial for Effective Strategic Leadership
  12. EPSUWill the Circular Economy be an Economy With no Workers?

Latest News

  1. EU leaders set for 'stormy debate' on digital tax at summit
  2. EU praises Turkey on migrant deal despite Greek misery
  3. Judicial reforms 'restore balance', Poland tells EU
  4. Whistleblower fears for life as US arrests Malta bank chair
  5. Behind the scenes at Monday's EU talks on Russia
  6. US yet to push on Nord Stream 2 sanctions
  7. EU mulls coercion to get refugee kids' fingerprints
  8. Five east European states prevent new CAP consensus

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressThe 2018 European Medal of Tolerance Goes to Prince Albert II of Monaco
  2. FiscalNoteGlobal Policy Trends: What to Watch in 2018
  3. Human Rights and Democracy NetworkPromoting Human Rights and Democracy in the Next Eu Multiannual Financial Framework
  4. Mission of China to the EUDigital Cooperation a Priority for China-EU Relations
  5. ECTACompetition must prevail in the quest for telecoms investment
  6. European Friends of ArmeniaTaking Stock of 30 Years of EU Policy on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: How Can the EU Contribute to Peace?
  7. ILGA EuropeCongratulations Finland!
  8. UNICEFCyclone Season Looms Over 720,000 Rohingya Children in Myanmar & Bangladesh
  9. European Gaming & Betting AssociationEU Court: EU Commission Correct to Issue Guidelines for Online Gambling Services
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina Hopes for More Exchanges With Nordic, Baltic Countries
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementCondemns Facebook for Actively Promoting Anti-Macedonian Racism
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersGlobal Seed Vault: Gene Banks Gather to Celebrate 1 Million Seed Collections