NATO’s top military commander on Tuesday accused Russia and its vassal in Syria of “weaponizing” refugees in an attempt to break Europe’s political will.
General Philip Breedlove, the West’s supreme allied commander, told senators in Washington DC that he could think of no reason for the deliberate targeting of civilians in Syria “other than to cause refugees to be on the move and make them someone else’s problem.”
“I use the term weaponization of immigration,” he said.
The barrel bombs used by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, which Russia protects, have no “military utility,” Breedlove pointed out, and are “designed to terrorize, get people out of their homes and get them on the road.”
He also criticized Russia’s use of “non-precision” weapons in the airstrikes it has itself conducted in Syria.
Russian warplanes started bombing in Syria in September when Assad’s loyalists had suffered a series of losses to the Arab- and Western-backed opposition.
The Atlantic Sentinel speculated at the time that one of the reasons Russia intervened might have been to accelerate the refugee flow and put pressure on its European rivals.
Breedlove’s testimony on Tuesday bears out that suspicion.
One in two Syrians have been displaced by the fighting. Millions of refugees and migrants, from Syria and elsewhere, have sought asylum in the countries of the European Union, overwhelming the bloc — as well as dividing it and distracting its attention away from the situation in Ukraine.
All of which suits Russia.
The country has been locked in a standoff with the West since it invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.
European countries and the United States imposed sanctions that have conspired with low oil prices to push Russia’s economy into recession.
Russia is believed to seek a grand bargain under which it would curtail the refugee flow into Europe in exchange for relief from sanctions.
Short of that, worsening the migrant crisis helps fuel support for nationalist parties in Europe, like France’s Front national, which tend to be sympathetic to Russia.