Thursday

19th Jul 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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... our join as a group

  • 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.

Analysis

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.

Opinion

EU must create safe, legal pathways to Europe

As the rapporteur for the European Parliament on an EU regulation on resettlement, my colleagues and I have outlined an effective plan based on solidarity and humanitarian principles.

News in Brief

  1. Spain withdraws arrest warrant for Catalan separatists
  2. EU readies counter-measures on possible US car tariffs
  3. EU Commission launches probe into Hungary's 'Stop Soros' law
  4. EU warns Turkey on anti-terror bill
  5. Report: EU secretly scorns UK's Brexit paper
  6. Hungary: UN treaty could 'inspire millions' of migrants
  7. Nato reacts after Trump disparages Montenegro
  8. EU bank deals blow to Iran arms deal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  2. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  4. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  8. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  9. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  12. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  2. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  5. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  7. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  8. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  9. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  10. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  12. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us