The supreme allied commander in Europe for the 28-member military alliance said the massive flow of migrants from war-torn Syria has had a destabilizing effect on European countries where they found refuge, and that worked to Moscow’s advantage.
“Together, Russia and the Assad regime are deliberately weaponizing migration in an attempt to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve,” Breedlove told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Speaking of Russia’s six-month air campaign in support of Assad, and the Syrian leader’s use of barrel bombs in civilian areas, Breedlove said Moscow and Damascus are deliberately fueling the mass displacement of Syrians.
Breedlove, who also heads the US military’s European Command, suggested this creates a distraction for Western powers as they grapple with the crisis and are forced to take their eye off its root cause.
“These indiscriminate weapons used by both Bashar al-Assad, and the non-precision use of weapons by the Russian forces, I can’t find any other reason for them other than to cause refugees to be on the move and make them someone else’s problem,” Breedlove said.
Further complicating the refugee crisis, he added, is that increasing numbers of foreigners who have fought in Syria are heading home again, bringing battlefield skills and sometimes extremist ideologies.
“What we have seen growing in the past months and year is that in that flow of refugees we see criminality, terrorism and foreign fighters,” he said.
NATO last month launched an unprecedented naval mission in the Aegean Sea to tackle people smugglers taking refugees and migrants from Turkey to Greece.