Saturday, 12 March 2016

Did Putin organise the migrant crisis as a weapon of mass destruction, aimed at the EU?

I have long been sceptical of the interpretations offered by most English-language journalists covering Syria. They, like  the US and UK governments, want the Assad regime to go. It seemed to me that our only interest should be in peace in the country and region, not regime change, nor countering Russia or Iran. The best thing that could happen would be a peace involving a reformed regime. After reaching this conclusion, I found my Syrian Christian friends, who have no love for the regime, thought the same. I still think so and I hope the intervention of Russia can bring this about. It's in Russia's interests to make a swift, successful exit.

However I have learnt much more about public opinion in Syria, which I had previously made guesses about. I no longer imagine that most Syrians want the rebels to be defeated. The contrary seems to be true.

I have spoken to British people who were in Syria recently, in both rebel-held and
government-held territory, who tell me that most Syrians on both sides detest the regime and blame it for waging an unnecessary and very brutal war, instead of ceding power to the rebels early on. The regime is guilty of very many terrible crimes, many more than ISIS, though the 'moderate' rebels are also guilty of very many dreadful crimes. The moderate rebels are not moderate in their methods, only in the sense that they are not Islamists. 

Islamists, many of whom were released from gaol several years ago by Assad, make up half of the rebels. The regime for a long time wanted to strengthen the Islamists at the expense of the non-Islamist rebels. Assad accuses the Saudis and Turkey of helping ISIS but he has done so himself.

Russia, which is in economic free fall, has many objects in intervening in Syria. One is to take the public's mind off their problems. One is securing air control around their naval base in Tartus. One is to make possible the projected Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline, which would allow Russia to control gas exports to Europe, and prevent a projected pipeline linking Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria to Turkey. (This, I suppose, is part of the reason the US and UK want regime change.) Other Russian objectives are prestige, glory, power in the Middle East and reprisals against the Americans and NATO. All of these objectives are perfectly reasonable from Russia's point of view. It's the Great Game.

But one very important object, at least according General Philip Breedlove, NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, is to cause large numbers of people in rebel held territory to flee, by indiscriminate bombing of civilians, including of hospitals. This gives the regime land with which to reward their people and strengthen an Alawi homeland near the coast, but for Vladimir Putin it has the great advantage of driving migrants into Turkey and thence to Europe, thus destabilising the EU, punishing it for sanctions imposed on Moscow after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

I am sure Russia has the fortitude to bear the EU's misfortunes but is this a key Russian objective or a bonus? I have not seen any other explanation of why the people smugglers suddenly lowered the price of passage to Greece last year, which caused the crisis. The explanation that the Russians arranged it is very plausible. 

Many of us were pleased that Putin was trying to destabilise Angela Merkel, because we were horrified by her migrant policy, but if her rash decision to admit an unlimited number of migrants, without passports or papers, to Germany was a response to Russia using migrants as a weapon, then it is Vladimir Putin whom we should blame. But allocating blame is not important - stopping the flow of migrants is.

I still have no evidence that Russia engineered the migrant crisis. Experienced, independent war correspondents like Robert Fisk, Charles Glass and Patrick Cockburn, have said nothing about it. No-one fully understands what is going on. I am told that the British secret service have no doubt that the migrant invasion was arranged by the Kremlin and various sources including NATO have recently been publicising this. I wonder why evidence is not given to the press and why this didn't come to light last summer, when the great exodus began. 

I hear stories of unseaworthy vessels being bought in places like Odessa for scrap value, tugged to Turkey and being used to ship migrants. They are 'ghost ships' without crews - migrants are told to steer themThere is a lot of money to be made in this business by the Russian mafia, who have close links to the Russian secret service and former KGB officers, of whom Vladimir Putin is one.

If the Russians have caused the migrant crisis this would explain why there was not a comparable wave of refugees from Iraq years ago.

It is very possible that Vladimir Putin deliberately brought about the migrant crisis but, if so, Angela Merkel has made things much worse - rather as George W Bush made Al Qaeda much more dangerous by his reaction to September 11. The sudden invasion of migrants explains but does not, in my opinion, justify Angela Merkel's decision to tell migrants  to make their way to Germany. She thus caused very much more people smuggling and many more drownings. 

She has also set a very fateful and symbolic precedent. There are always wars and always very many people from poor countries who want to live in rich ones. The boats will continue to come forever, for there is no ceiling on the numbers who want to come to Europe,  unless Europe resolves not to take more asylum seekers from Asia and Africa.

One million migrants have arrived in Europe so far via illegal routes, of whom only 38 percent are from Syria. 1,200,000 Syrian refugees are in Lebanon. 15 per cent of female Syrian refugees in Turkey are pregnant. 

Turkey is doing almost nothing to stop the boats leaving and is using the migrants as a means to blackmail the EU. Friends who read internet forums in Arabic tell me many Muslims welcome the migrant invasion as part of the Islamisation of Europe, which of course it is. I am sure the Saudi monarchy and the Iranian government do so. 

What is self-evident is that these people ceased to be asylum seekers when they left Turkey, where they had asylum. They became economic migrants and illegal immigrants. On the other hand, the camps are not necessarily safe places. In the camps in Syria and Turkey women and children have sometimes been sexually assaulted, buggered or raped by refugees. I am told a bigger problem is children being collected from the camps by criminal gangs, for sale in Europe. 

Nor are migrant children safe once in Europe. At least 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees have disappeared after registering with the authorities. 

Russia is observing the rules of the truce in Syria and bombing of civilians has ended. We must hope that Russia and America can bring about a lasting peace. I imagine some solution like the Bosnian solution of what are effectively two states in the loosest confederation is the answer. I hope a Kurdish autonomous area with de facto independence. It may be that if the ceasefire holds we shall have instead an indefinitely frozen conflict, something Russia often favours and engineered in Donetsk, Lugansk, Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. This would be much better than war.

It may be the top leaders can be removed from the regime, as happened in Romania in the revolution. Maybe a reformed regime can become vaguely democratic, as should have happened in Iraq. But the Syrian and Iraqi dictatorships rested on the support of minority groups and were disliked by the majority group. At least the Assads do not rely only on Alawis, Shias, Christians and other Arab minorities  - the Syrian army is to a large extent officered by Sunnis and Damascus, held by the government, is a majority Sunni city. In any case we have no reason to suppose Vladimir Putin will necessarily want to remove Assad. he may want to show that, unlike the USA, he is loyal to his friends.


  1. I don't know if Putin is pushing refugees to Europe, more likely he is not displeased by it, but i see no evidence he created it. as for Assad, the Alawites and some others don't particularly like him, but they are convinced he will protect them from Isis and the Sunni majority of Syria, though with 3 million driven out of the country, that majority is greatly reduced.

  2. I can see why demagoguery of the type practiced by Trump and Putin appeals in times of flux, it always has. Both are hypocritical of course, Russia has a huge underclass of non ethnic Russians from the former Russian satellite states who do much menial work in Thee oilfields,Moscow and St Petersburg far cheaper than even Russians and are treated very badly despite underpinning the economy, and Trump has over 30% of his work force as migrants, many of whom his companies sponsored because they were cheaper than white or black Americans.

    As for Merkel, I don't think she foresaw the numbers, but she did see the coming demographic time bomb Germany was facing and had her own experiences from coming West. I believe there is a difference between soft headed and compassionate, to survive she is a pretty tough operator. The elections today will be a litmus as to what the electorate think.


    1. No, she is not soft headed, I suspect she was pressurised by the USA and anxious to save Europe. And Europhiles believe in post-national cosmopolitans not in Germans or Frenchmen. They want 'European' to be the key identity and oddly this seems to involve accepting non-Europeans into Europe. I think the migrants will be a huge burden to the German economy - an economist has estimated that more than half cannot read or write Arabic - though as Syria is supposed to have an 81% literacy rate that seems unlikely.

  3. A quarter of Syrian girls finish high school and 13 percent took part in the Syrian labour force. Syrian men may be able to take part in the German economy, Syrian women less likely. They'll just have lots of kids....

  4. In 1950 only 12% of married women in the UK went out to work and most of them were cleaners and waitresses, not barristers.

  5. And there seem to be few women among the migrants.

  6. "In 1950 only 12% of married women in the UK went out to work and most of them were cleaners and waitresses, not barristers." The economy was a lot different then. Today families in the West need womens' incomes, for better or worse. Immigrant families at the lower end of the skill scale certainly will, or they will go on benefit. You good with that?

    1. I don't want the migrants to stay in Germany but to be sent back as speedily as possible.