A recent statement by a high ranking NATO official claims that the migrant-refugee crisis is a Russian conspiracy. The aim? To destroy the European Union.
Matthew Holehouse of the UK Telegraph reports that the Supreme Allied Commander -Europe and the head of the US European Command has a theory about what's actually happening with the refugee crisis in Europe.
"Together, Russia and the Assad regime are deliberately weaponising migration in an attempt to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve."
Describing fleeing migrants as a "weaponized" migration is certainly one way to make victims into the enemy though I don't believe Breedlove meant it that way. He told the Senators:
"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.".
The Telegraph article, oddly, finds confirmation of Breedlove's remarks in the statements made by the Russian ambassador to London, Alexander Yakovenko. Yakovenko said that the ceasefire in Syria involving Russian forces “will help alleviate the migration crisis in the EU.”
A link is not an example of causation.
Had the NATO commander's statement come from a crackpot conspiracy theorist at a fringe website, it might be easier to write off. In this case, the statement must be taken seriously.
Essentially, this is a conspiracy theory. As far as we can tell, there's really no substantial proof that Putin has cooked up a scheme to destroy Europe in such a way.
As we have said on many occasions, not all conspiracy theories are equal. To dismiss all of them is as wrong as accepting every one.
The real test of a conspiracy theory is determining the number of logical implausibilities it requires us to believe. Under the weight of dubious assumptions, a theory of dark motives becomes too unlikely for reasonable people to accept.
That's the case with General Breedlove's remarks. It attributes to Putin and Assad a super-human command over a cascade of events, each of them more or less unpredictable. It requires us to believe that Putin was somehow gifted with the ability to read minds and predict how they would decide.
Moreover, the weakest link in this theory is that it asks us to believe that Putin would know exactly how the Turkish leadership would react to the mass exodus. After the downing of a Russian fighter over Syria, there's no evidence that Putin has a strong grasp on Turkey's decision-making processes.
So too Putin would have had to know that Turkish human smuggling networks would be established to bring the people from one side of the nation to the other.
More importantly, he would have to have somehow deduced that Syrian refugees would actually take the risk of crossing into Greece from Turkey.
The very reason the events are so stunning was that few actually thought such a mass movement of people could take place.
The more you look at Breedlove's idea, the more burdensome the assumptions become. The theory of the Russian conspiracy also demands that we believe that Putin could predict that Greek authorities would pass the problem on to its neighbors to the North. In fact, Putin would more likely have assumed that Greece would have lived up to the terms of the EU agreements which states that refugees are to be kept in the country where they first arrived.
That's not what happened.
In the end, Breedlove's theory uses some questionable logic to make all of the pieces fit.
Of course, there's no denying that the actions of Syrian president Assad and Russian President Putin have- in part- led to this particular crisis.
The question is, however, whether this was a part of some diabolic strategy or the product of a poorly-reasoned policy based on political necessity.
Perhaps Putin had little choice but to support Assad, come hell or high water. Allowing Assad- Moscow’s key surviving Arab ally- to fall would have put Russia in yet another humiliating position. Especially coming on the heels of the ousting of Russia's man in Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovich.
Saving Assad from meeting the same fate as other regional despots like Libya’s Muammar al-Qaddafi and Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak is emerging as a key facet of Russia’s Middle East strategy. By propping up one of the region’s most vilified leaders, Moscow is sending a powerful message about its willingness to act aggressively in a region where many of America’s closest allies are feeling insecure — and questioning Washington’s commitment to have their backs in the future.
Again, see we highlight the weakness of the West and praise the immorality of Russian foreign policy.
That's quite a double standard.
Protecting of a dictator who is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of his own people -even in the name of fighting a group like ISIS- clearly requires a mind without a the thinnest sliver of conscience.
The Lesson Russia Failed to Learn
That article also quotes Andrew Tabler, an expert on Arab politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The Sad Truth about Vladimir
“The region is falling apart, and states are collapsing, and the Russians are willing to intervene to protect their interests and assert their power, and the United States is not."
Intervention might send a "powerful message" but it is a massive mistake nonetheless. One thing it is not is a masterful strategic powerplay.
Over the last decade, some less hawkish people might say, the US has learned the hard way (maybe) about the long term disadvantage of propping up dictators, like Mubarak and so many other tyrants in the Middle East. It's really a no-win situation and if nothing else, the stakes must be high enough to justify making the commitment. Is Assad worth the effort?
For Putin to say да! then he must show that Assad can be controlled when Russia's interest deem it necessary. Otherwise, it is a merely foolish move. On top of that, it comes at a time when Russia simply cannot afford military adventurism.
So now, it is Putin's turn to learn that leaders who have earned the consent to govern by their own people generally tend to be a more stable ally. (Those come few and far between in the Middle East as a rule.)
Nobody should be surprised that Putin- of all people- would not acknowledge that essential fact of world politics.
In yet another opinion, instead of attempting to crush Europe, Putin may simply not give a damn and is willing to do whatever it takes to have his way in the Middle East.
Power is power and shock and awe really does have a dispiriting effect on the mind. Absolutely nothing sends a more powerful message than dropping bombs on innocent people. Nothing says control than reducing to rubble hospitals and schools.
If Putin was trying to destroy Europe, then why couldn't the same thing could be said of any of the countries along the migrant route?
Was Greece attempting to destroy Europe? Lord knows the EU has incurred enough Greek animosity?
Was Turkey trying to sabotage the EU too? In Turkey's case, destroying Europe could be seen as the proper revenge for barring it from becoming a part of the EU.
Does this sound any more plausible to Breedlove, I wonder?
Why stop there?
On a larger scale, perhaps the real villain in this conspiracy was President Bush. He, some say, set the ball rolling when he decided to shatter the fragile balance of power by removing Saddam?
Too often in the past, Putin has been given more credit than he deserves. We in the West are constantly assured of his fiendishly clever mind and his ability to come up with brilliant long-range plans. We are constantly told that he is playing chess while we in the West are playing twiddly-winks on our VR sets.
But we seem to have forgotten the lessons from the fall of the Soviet Union. Throughout the Cold War, the message from NATO was the same. The Soviet bloc was seen as a competitive challenger to the West. It was a threat and every action taken by Soviet leaders was seen as part of some kind of masterplan. This idea, which blinded us to the reality of a monolithic and backward state, instantly dissolved when the wall fell and people could begin telling the truth again.
Today we only need to look at the Russian economy to see that not much has changed on either side of the divide. We are still seeing boogeymen where there are only bumblers and incompetent bosses.
The hard cold facts about the state of things inside his country suggest a very different story to the myth. In many ways, Russia has never been in a faster decline than it is now and the Russian people have Putin and his friends to thank for it.
The tragic truth is that Vladimir Putin has been a disaster for Russia and the murderer of his people's hopes for advancement. The fact that he is apparently willing to kill or imprison anybody who stands in his way is only a sign of Putin's shortcomings. His obsessive control of the mass media to eliminate public criticism is a familiar tool of dictators, not modern and laudable leadership.
Putin may be a fan of Donald Trump but, in terms of positive leadership, Russians deserve better.
In fact, Russia is becoming a failed state, says Alexander J. Motyl, writing for World Affairs Journal, a bimonthly international foreign affairs journal.
Putin's tenure has unfortunately been marked by a series of lost opportunity for reform and for a change in direction from the Soviet times.
If current trends continue, as they probably will, Motyl states, Russia may even disappear. (That's not even taking into account the nation's current economic mess.)
That article cites Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, a think tank and regional affiliate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:
Russia has entered a phase of mutual estrangement with a large part of Europe; and it has, for the foreseeable future, acquired a hostile Ukraine on its border, whose new foundation for nation-building is based on hostility to Russia. Finally, Russia has been sucked into the permanent theater of conflict that is the Middle East.
Even President Obama warned Russia that Putin was very likely to discover that it was easier to march into the Middle East than to march out again.
It was the same advice France gave the Bush administration before the invasion of Iraq. It too was ignored in the era of Freedom Fries.
* * *
The chief flaw in Breedlove's logic is that it assumes that Putin actually understands the long-term effects of his own political adventures.
However, as much as we might like to think otherwise, Putin puts on his trousers every morning one leg at a time just like the rest of us.
In other words, he is as flawed as any other leader. And maybe, just maybe, a lot more than average.
As we have seen in Ukraine, the man makes some miserable mistakes and, given the fact, he surrounds himself- like every autocrat, with people who are too afraid to tell the truth- it's no surprise.
Europe's Self-Induced Crisis
But there is another side to Breedlove's imaginative theory. Blaming Putin for the refugee mess lets a lot of people in the West off the hook.
In a call for action, the always diplomatic UN yesterday declared the refugee migrations "a largely self-induced humanitarian crisis."
That's a delicately put truth.
And what's also true is that Europe at one time had many options to prevent it.
So long as it remained outside of Europe - even though the problem was actually knocking on Europe's back door- European leaders were happy enough to give lip service but no more. As soon as it became Europe's problem too, then it was a crisis.
To put it in human terms, while Syrian children were freezing in refugee camps in southeast Turkey, it was only mildly distressing news from a faraway region.
The reality on the ground was dismal and has been for a long time.
There are more than 2.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. Only a small portion lives in refugee camps. The rest are located in Anatolian towns and major cities. Of these, a substantial number are on the streets and in public parks. As one drives across Istanbul, there are Syrian kids at every traffic light, begging for food and money.
It is no surprise that families are trying to escape. Is this how any of us would want our children to live?
This problem has been handled badly in dozens of ways.
Back 2014, the seriousness of Turkey's refugee problem was examined in a report by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
That detailed report of the refugee situation in southeast Turkey cited a statement made back in late 2013 by EU internal markets commissioner Michel Barnier.
Noting the increased number of Syrians arriving in EU countries, Barnier pointed out that EU needed to brace for a possible ‘massive influx of Syrian refugees.”
Nobody was listening in 2013 and apparently nobody read the WINEP report in 2014 which warned:
Assisting Turkey now in the ways just outlined could help sustain present Turkish relief efforts, in turn avoiding the possibility of massive illegal refugee flows into Europe in the future.:
To shift the blame on Putin and attribute it to some kind of Russian plot is merely excuse-making of the worst kind. It is an escape of accountability for Europe's role in making the crisis worse.
NATO had a responsibility too. Had decisive and bold action been taken by NATO to seal the Turkish border and to establish a well-defended no-fly zone in Northern Syria, then much suffering could have been prevented. NATO had every right to act since Turkey is a NATO member nation.Only a few days ago, it was announced that NATO had agreed to deploy warships in the Aegean Sea to deter the people-smuggling networks that ferry migrants from Turkey into Europe. Effectively building a wall of battleships to keep the problem out of Europe.
That's the solution and this summer we will get a chance to see how well this works. If last year was bad, with dead babies washing up on the tourist resort beaches, and survivors marching across Europe, wait until the sequel comes out.
Never mind that. Today NATO commanders have found the best excuse for this humanitarian crisis: blame Putin and declare the mass migration of helpless homeless families as a conspiracy to weaponize refugees.
If the Europe Union shakes and collapses due to the refugee crisis then it isn't just Vladimir Putin who should be held responsible for the end of that dream.