Russian mercenaries are responsible for a surge in illegal immigration into Europe and are engaging in “hybrid warfare” against countries supporting Ukraine in the ongoing conflict, Italy’s Defense Minister Guido Crosetto has claimed.
Speaking on Monday, the Italian minister claimed the Russian Wagner Group, which operates in several African countries and holds considerable political influence, has been facilitating an increase in illegal immigration across the Mediterranean into Italy.
“I think it is now safe to say that the exponential increase in the migratory phenomenon departing from African shores is also, to a not insignificant extent, part of a clear strategy of hybrid warfare that the Wagner division is implementing, using its considerable weight in some African countries,” Crosetto said.
“Just as the EU, NATO, and the West have realized that cyberattacks were part of the global confrontation that the war in Ukraine opened up, they should now understand that the southern European front is also becoming more dangerous every day,” he added.
However, Italy has long dealt with mass migration from Africa and Middle Eastern countries, and the minister presented no evidence that Wagner was behind any operation to increase migration to Europe. Europe, however, has faced a migrant crisis partially facilitated by Russia and Belarus in countries like Poland and Baltic nations over the last couple of years.
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Italy’s Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani told Italian news agency ANSA that many migrants are now originating from areas “controlled by the Wagner group.”
Europe’s border agency, Frontex, reported that in the first two months of 2023, the top countries of origin were Ivory Coast, Guinea, and Pakistan — all countries where Wagner has no presence.
The accusation is firmly denied by the mercenary group whose leader Yevgeny Prigozhin said via the Telegram messaging app: “We have no idea what is happening with regard to the migrant crisis, but we are not dealing with it,” before calling Crosetto a “mudak,” a Russian derogatory term akin to “idiot” or “moron.”
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As Remix News reported on Monday, migrant crossings across the Mediterranean have more than doubled in the first two months of 2023, with Frontex data revealing a total of 11,951 crossings detected in January and February, up 118 percent over the same period last year.
Italian government figures revealed more than 20,000 people have now reached Italy so far this year, suggesting a significant increase in the past two weeks in migrant activity.
The surge in immigration prompted the Italian government last week to announce tougher new laws on people smugglers, who could now see themselves jailed for up to 30 years for facilitating illegal immigration into Italy.