Russia’s mercenary Wagner group has put a USD 15 million bounty on Italian Defense Minister Guido Crosetto (FDI/ECR), who accused the group as being responsible for the upsurge in migration to Italy, according to a report by the Italian intelligence services.
Italian intelligence reportedly received the news about the bounty 10 days ago but only made it public this week. This was followed by Crosetto accusing Wagner of enabling the increase in migrant arrivals 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.
On Monday, Crosetto said Wagner, a mercenary group whose owner has close links to Russian President Vladimir Putin, was responsible for the uptick in migrant arrivals which has caused political unrest both in Italy and Europe.
“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, similar to acknowledgement of cyber attacks being part of the ongoing Ukrainian global conflict, should comprehend 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 went on to say.
Wagner forces have been reported as conducting operations in several African countries such as Libya, Mali, and the Central African Republic. They have also been at the forefront of Russia’s attempt to take the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, Reuters reported.
Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, during a visit to Israel, made similar remarks, stating 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 responded on his Telegram channel, denying any involvement and referring to the minister as a ‘mudak’, a strong 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 wrote.
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.
“Perhaps it would be easier […] to let Wagner’s mercenaries and fundamentalists continue to take hold in Africa”, Giorgia Meloni said.
“Russia is creating a migrant bomb,” Lega’s group leader in the Senate, Massimiliano Romeo noted.