Italian Defence Minister Guido Crosetto on Monday accused the Russian paramilitary group Wagner of promoting illegal migration to Europe to punish European countries supporting Ukraine.
“The exponential increase in the migration phenomenon from African shores is also, to a significant extent, part of a clear strategy of hybrid warfare that the Wagner group (…) is implementing using its significant weight in several African countries,” the minister said in a statement.
“Just as the EU, NATO and the West have realised that cyber attacks are part of the global confrontation that the war in Ukraine has opened up, they should now understand that the front in southern Europe is becoming more dangerous every day,” he continued.
“Uncontrolled and continuous immigration (…) is becoming a means to hit the most exposed countries, first and foremost Italy, and their geostrategic choices,” he warned.
More than 20,000 migrants have landed in Italy since the beginning of the year, compared to about 6,000 over the same period in 2022 and 2021, according to the Italian Interior Ministry. Most arrive from the North African coast in overcrowded boats at the risk of their lives.
The Wagner group, whose boss Yevgeny Prigozhin is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, is active in Ukraine, but also in several African countries such as the Central African Republic and Mali.
Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said on Monday, on the sidelines of a trip to Israel, that he was concerned “because many migrants are coming from areas controlled by the Wagner group.”
The far right won elections in September on a resolutely anti-migrant line and its leader, Giorgia Meloni, has led the Italian government since then.
Italy, a member of the EU and NATO, has been a strong supporter of Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion and provides military aid to Kyiv.