THE ITALIAN GOVERNMENT has uncovered what it believes to be a new layer of mendacity in the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. Thousands of kilometres to the south of the fighting in Ukraine’s eastern provinces, deep in the anarchic wilderness of Sub-Saharan Africa, there’s been a grim addition to the criminal infrastructure of human-trafficking and people-smuggling. Russians.
Displaying that formidable mixture of state and private interests the world has learned to recognise in the Wagner Group’s fearsome mercenaries, new groups of highly organised Russian smugglers are hard at work. Unquestionably, these men are motivated by the huge profits to be made out of human suffering and desperation. But, they have not set up shop in these lawless lands entirely of their own volition. Somebody sent them there.
Moscow may not have intentionally propelled a vast wave of Syrian refugees in the direction of the European Union back in 2015. Indeed, it was most likely the German Chancellor’s, Angela Merkel’s, open arms of welcome that caused so many tragic columns of humanity to come bursting through Europe’s border fences in search of “Angela’s Country”. But Moscow looked on with considerable interest as this great wave of refugees broke over the nations of Western Europe.
Startled, at least initially, by the extraordinary welcome extended to the refugees by Europe’s most innocent and idealistic citizens, Russian cynicism was all-too-swiftly confirmed by the vicious racist backlash unleashed against the newcomers. Russia saw Germany riven by animosities its leaders had believed long buried. It watched the rise of far-right political parties disturb the civilised equilibrium of the Federal Republic. With a mixture of horror and delight, Moscow watched the eager ghost of Nazism break free of the stones piled upon its tomb.
Putin’s advisers now had a new strategic weapon to work on and perfect – migratory waves of unwelcome human-beings. Desperate people with different coloured skins and different religious beliefs arriving at, or actually breaching, the national borders of their enemies could wreak as much havoc, culturally and politically, as a hypersonic missile exploding in the middle of a Ukrainian power station.
The first inkling that Moscow had drawn a devastating lesson from the “Syrian invasion of Europe” came at the border of Belarus and Poland in 2021. Operating through his most trusted lieutenant, the Belarusian President, Alexander Lukashenko, Vladimir Putin arranged for Middle Eastern economic refugees, hungry for the peace and abundance of Europe, to be flown from their homelands and bussed to the frigid forests straddling the border of Belarus and Poland. “Over that fence lies freedom and prosperity!”, cried the freezing refugees’ minders – pointing westward.
The Poles, all-too-familiar with mendacity of the Russian bear, were having none of it. Crossing the border in significant numbers, the refugees would find themselves swaddled in the proudly humanitarian laws of the EU. The Polish government decided that under no circumstances could that be allowed to happen. Batons, tear-gas, and the use of water cannons in sub-zero temperatures ensured that the refugees did not make it across the fence.
Two years later, with Europe united against Russian aggression in Ukraine, the next great human wave of refugees is coming up out of the South, crossing the Sahara Desert, setting sail in frail and dangerously overcrowded boats from the coast of lawless Libya for the toe of the Italian boot – where gangsters every bit as ruthless as their Russian confreres are waiting to welcome them ashore. Twenty thousand illegal arrivals this year alone.
Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s first woman prime minister, may now be regretting the strong stand she and her country took against Russian aggression. As the leader of Brothers of Italy, a party of the Italian far-right, she is well aware of the political utility of illegal immigrants. Without them, and the racist tempers they inflame, she and her coalition could not have won power. Meloni promised to turn back the boats, but still they come: more and more. Putin has made a liar of her.
One can only speculate as to whether the British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has been made aware of exactly who the gangster wolves driving Africa’s immigrant lambs over Europe’s borders are working for. Meeting this week with his AUKUS partners in San Diego, did he pull aside Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, and whisper:
“Tell me again, Tony, how Australia stopped the boats.”
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 17 March 2023.