James Carden recently reported in these pages on Washington’s powerful bastions of resistance to a pragmatic rapprochement with Russia over Syria. Europe’s own brand of neocons are in agitation on the other side of the Atlantic too. Earlier in March, The Guardian reported that Jānis Sārts, director of NATO’s Strategic Communications Center of Excellence in Latvia, “believed there was now evidence” that Russia was “trying to topple Angela Merkel by waging an information war designed to stir up anger in Germany over refugees.”
What that evidence was, the paper didn’t say, knowingly stating instead that Sārts “has access to intelligence briefings.” But lack of evidence did little to prevent Europe’s most widely read English-language daily from reporting, as more or less unquestioned fact, Moscow’s angling for regime change in Berlin. Russia, it quoted Sārts as saying, is “establishing a network that can be controlled. You can use it as they have tried to do in Germany…to undercut political processes in a very serious way…and create a momentum where there is political change in Germany.”
The accusation seems to be that Russia is capitalizing on domestic opposition to Merkel’s open-door immigration policies by directing funds to the contrarian Alternativ für Deutschland (AfD) party, whose support has surged as disenchantment with Merkel has grown (as seen in its success in recent state elections).
But if evidence of such money flows exists, why not simply confront the leadership of AfD with it? This is what happened when it emerged that France’s Front National had received a 9.4 million-euro-loan from a Russian bank in 2014.
But Sārts’s “revelation” wasn’t meant to inform the public; it was meant to scare it. It’s best seen as the latest act in a joint NATO-EU “information war” against Russia.
This reached absurd heights when US Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO supreme commander in Europe, two weeks ago told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “Russia and the Assad regime are deliberately weaponizing migration in an attempt to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve.”
Breedlove was undeterred by the lack of evidence to support what soon emerged as a supposition based on “the non-precision use of weapons by Russia.”
“I can’t find any other reason for them,” Breedlove reassured his audience, “other than to cause refugees to be on the move and make them someone else’s problem.”
Talk of “weaponization” and “regime change” increasingly bears the hallmarks of a strategy intended to shift responsibility for Europe’s “refugee crisis” from the shoulders of an EU leadership that has proved unable to stop the flow of migrants, to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s. Eerily, Sārts and Breedlove are merely repeating claims that European Council President Donald Tusk (prime minister of Poland from 2007 to 2014) has been putting about for almost six months.
Tusk, who has often appeared to sideline Federica Mogherini, the EU high representative for foreign affairs, revealed his lack of realism and underlying hostility toward Russia in his first interview as president, when he told journalists, “I know—it’s not my intuition, but my knowledge—that Putin’s policy is…simply to have enemies, to be stronger than them, to destroy them, and to be in conflict.”