May 19. 2024. 12:25

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Russia’s Wagner puts $15 million bounty on Italian defence minister


Russia’s mercenary Wagner group has put a $15 million bounty on Italian Defence Minister Guido Crosetto (FDI/ECR), who blamed the group for causing the increased migration wave to Italy, a report by the Italian intelligence services reads.

News of the bounty was reportedly received by Italian intelligence some 10 days ago but was not made public until this week. It was followed by Crosetto blaming Wagner for an increase in migrants from Africa to Italy.

According to interior ministry data, migration has risen to 20,021 migrants from 1 January to 15 March 2023, compared to 6,263 migrants who reached the country during that same period in 2022 and 6,041 in 2021.

Also read: Increase deportations, recognise migrant deals, EU tells capitals

On Monday, Crosetto said Wagner, a mercenary group whose owner has close links to Russian President Vladamir Putin, was behind the surge of migrant arrivals that have caused political turmoil both in Italy and Europe, as well as scores of deaths.

“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.”

He added that the EU, NATO and the West, just as they realised cyber attacks were part of the ongoing Ukrainian global conflict, should understand that the southern European front is becoming more dangerous.

“They should take note that uncontrolled and continuous migration, added to the economic and social crisis, becomes a way to hit the most exposed countries, first and foremost Italy, and their geostrategic choices, clear and sharp”, he added.

Crosetto also called on allies, including fellow NATO members to step up support and share the burden of problems that arise.

Similar comments were also forthcoming from Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani who told the media during a visit to Israel that it is “worrying” many of the migrants arriving in Italy are coming from areas “controlled by the Wagner group”

As a response, Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin posted an expletive-laden response on his Telegram channel, denying any involvement and calling the minister a ‘mudak’, a harsh insult in Russian.

“Crosetto should look less in other directions and deal with his own problems, which he probably failed to solve. We are not aware of what is happening with the migration crisis, we are not dealing with it. We have a lot of our own problems to deal with”, Prigozhin added.

The minister has not upgraded his security detail, media reported.

Russia is creating a ‘migrant bomb’

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni (FDI/ECR) gathered Crosetto, Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi, Vice-Prime Minister and Transport Minister Matteo Salvini (Lega/ID), Vice-Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani (FI/EPP), and the heads of the intelligence services to help better coordinate migration flows and, in particular, on maritime surveillance to detect barges even in extraterritorial waters.

“The more people leave and put themselves in the hands of cynical traffickers, the more there is a risk that something will go wrong: I don’t think this can ever be the right, humane and responsible way to deal with this,” Meloni said.

“Perhaps it would be easier […] to let Wagner’s mercenaries and fundamentalists continue to take hold in Africa”, she added.

“Russia is creating a migrant bomb,” Lega’s group leader in the Senate, Massimiliano Romeo (Lega/ID), said.

(Federica Pascale | EURACTIV.it)