Today, I was invited to appear on Russia Today TV to talk about the refugee crisis. They sent me questions in advance. This is how I answered.
What is the possibility that the EU will have to abandon Schengen border controls?
Schengen means no border controls. This may have to be abandoned for a certain time. But just as it was possible in the former Soviet Union to travel from Riga to Tiflis without border controls, we Europeans enjoy travelling from Riga to Naples without showing our passports. We will not give up this privilege permanently.
Cause and effect: To what degree is the refugee/migrant crisis a direct result western military meddling in the Middle East and North Africa?
To no degree. If anything, it is a result of the West not meddling, as you put it, enough. People are coming from Afghanistan and Iraq, where the West has pulled out or is pulling out. Most are coming from Syria, where the West refused to intervene against Assad, who is committing genocide against his own people.
Agree or disagree: Critics claim passport-free travel is an open door to criminals and illegal migrants.
Disagree. Big criminals – as you in Russia know very well – are often very well connected and have one, two or three passports. The people who murdered Mr Litvinenko in London, for instance, had Russian passports. The Spanish police have just busted a ring of Nigerian people traffickers who used Great Britain as their gateway to Europe, although Britain is not part of the Schengen passport-free zone. Illegal migrants do not have passports, so they can’t show them anyway.
Despite €3 billion (US$3.25 billion) in subsidies for refugee camps and an offer of visa-free travel for Turks, an EU-Turkey deal has so far failed to curb the flow of migrants. Is this the right approach?
Shouldn’t the EU examine the reason there are so many refugees/migrants?
Firstly, it is early days yet. Much too early to see whether the deal with Turkey is working or not. But of course we have to examine the reasons for refugees and, where we can, fix them. Some things are beyond our control, however. Russian meddling – your word – in the Ukraine, for instance, has created two million displaced persons. Russia’s ally Mr. Assad has turned his country into a huge refugee camp. Also, there are factors such as poverty, terror, corruption and so on in Africa that are endemic and hard to change. But given that the situation in much of the world is so terrible – shouldn’t Russia be asking itself why nobody wants to go to your country? Why they all want to go to the European Union and the USA? Including, by the way, Russians who have the money to buy themselves houses in Berlin, Paris or London. Why is that, do you think?
Agree or disagree: The Europeans share a good deal of blame. France and the UK were enthusiastic supporters of the attack on Libya and they were early backers of the “Assad must go” policy. Assad may not be a nice guy, but the forces that have been unleashed to overthrow him seem to be much worse and far more dangerous. No wonder people are so desperate to leave Syria.
Disagree. Authoritarian rulers like Gaddafi, Assad and, indeed, Putin create instability. Gaddafi was killing his own people before the United Nations authorized the use of force to stop him. Assad is still killing his own people, with the help of Iranian militias, Hisbollah terrorists and the Russian air force. It is a great pity that the country that once helped to defeat Nazi Germany is now defending a mini-Hitler like Assad. Of course, Russia can do this without suffering the consequences, because the USA is weak and no refugees want to go to Russia. But Obama will not be President for ever, nor will Putin. And then Russia may find that it needs the West more than the West needs Russia. Russia has nothing that we need except gas. We have everything else, from luxury goods to great universities to technical knowhow to a young population thanks to immigration, whereas you are getting old and shrinking. Not an exciting prospect. No wonder people who have the money are so eager to leave Russia.