Refugees are becoming Russia’s weapon of choice in Syria

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Simon Tisdall writes: Excerpts from a report by Turkey’s security services, published on Tuesday in Hurriyet newspaper, highlighted Turkish suspicions that Russia was purposefully attempting to “weaponise” the refugee crisis.

The report warned: “Regime forces and allies are trying to create a new refugee wave by moving towards Azaz [in northern Syria] … There are 10 refugee camps between this town and Turkey’s town of Kilis, approximately along an eight-kilometre line. The residents of these camps will likely flee and seek shelter in Turkey while these camps would be taken by the PYD or Assad forces.”

Security officials told the paper that Russia was employing tactics previously used in the first Chechen war in the north Caucasus in the 1990s, known as the “Grozny model”. This involved forcibly emptying urban residential areas through a campaign of attrition against the local population. Once this was achieved, heavy weapons were deployed to eradicate opposing forces, entailing widespread destruction of homes and infrastructure.

Given Assad’s previous documented use of barrel bombs, chemical weapons, airstrikes and heavy artillery against civilian areas, Russia’s alleged tactics hardly seem new. What appears to be different is the deliberate creation of tactical refugee emergencies to influence outside actors who must deal with the fallout.

Speaking at the weekend, US senator John McCain, a fierce critic of the Obama administration’s policy of non-intervention and a noted hawk, said Russia’s strategy was “to exacerbate the refugee crisis and use it as a weapon to divide the transatlantic alliance and undermine the European project”.

European politicians attending the weekend Munich security conference, prior to Monday’s attacks, echoed McCain’s concerns saying shops, schools and hospitals were being targeted in an attempt to force the local population to capitulate and increase the flow of refugees towards Turkey and Europe. [Continue reading…]

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