German minister warns Russia could use ‘people as weapons’

Germany's foreign minister warned Saturday that Russia could seek to spark division in the West through refugees, as Moscow seeks to expand its "hybrid war".

German minister warns Russia could use 'people as weapons'
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock gesticulates as she delivers a speech. Photo: Ina FASSBENDER/AFP

Germany’s foreign minister warned Saturday that Russia could seek to spark division in the West through refugees, as Moscow seeks to expand its “hybrid war”.

“This war is not only waged with weapons, it is also waged with energy and  for that, we have found an answer. But it will also be waged with fear and division, and that is precisely what we have to prevent,” said Annalena Baerbock at a congress of her Greens’ party.

“In this situation it is clear what will be next — refugees and not refugees from Ukraine… but because this war is hybrid, other countries are also participating,” Baerbock said, pointing to Serbia which she accused of letting in planeloads of migrants without visas.

Stressing that there cannot be a situation “where people are being used as weapons”, the minister said Germany was in talks with the Czech Republic and Slovakia on the issue.

Germany has in recent weeks warned about Belgrade’s visa-free travel regime for several countries whose citizens use Serbia as a springboard to enter the EU.

Serbia, a candidate for eventual EU membership, lies on the so-called Balkan route used by migrants heading towards Western Europe as they flee war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Although the route is nowhere as busy as it was during Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015, tens of thousands still pass through the region annually.

Germany took in over a million migrants during the 2015 crisis, but the move left Europe’s biggest economy deeply divided. Misgivings among some voters eventually resulted in the arrival of the far-right AfD party in parliament.

The European Commission’s 2022 report on migration and asylum released this month found an “increasing number of people” were arriving by air to Serbia due to its “visa-free regimes”.

It said it was “crucial” that Western Balkan partners “align their visa policies” with the EU to decrease pressure on the route.

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German far-right politician charged over Nazi slogan

German prosecutors charged a prominent member of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party Monday with using a banned Nazi slogan in an election campaign.

German far-right politician charged over Nazi slogan

Björn Höcke, the party’s regional leader in Thuringia, allegedly used the motto of the Nazi’s Stormtroopers SA paramilitary wing, “Everything for Germany”, the Halle prosecutor’s office said.

Höcke, a former history teacher, uttered the phrase in full knowledge of its “origin and meaning” in front of 250 people at a campaign event in 2021, according to prosecutors.

The AfD won 10 percent of the vote in the general election that year. Höcke is charged with “the public use of a symbol of a former National Socialist organisation”.

READ ALSO: Far-right AfD at new high as climate issues split Germany

The far-right politician “questioned the criminal relevance of his remark” through his lawyer, prosecutors said.

The AfD is currently level in the polls with Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats as discontent with the government grows.

It tops polls in a number of Germany’s eastern states, including Thuringia, though it trails the conservative opposition CDU-CSU alliance nationally.

In 2015 Höcke founded the “Flügel”, a radical faction within the AfD,which was placed under formal surveillance by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency.

READ ALSO: Germany surveils far-right Flügel as fight against extremism stepped up

The organisation subsequently disbanded but the far-right firebrand, whose statements on Germany’s Nazi past have sparked outrage, remains influential within the party.

Höcke has called Berlin’s Holocaust monument a “memorial of shame” and urged a “180-degree shift” in the country’s culture of remembrance.

“This charge against Björn Höcke is a correct and, in my view, long-overdue step,” said Holocaust survivor and Munich Jewish community leader Charlotte Knobloch on Twitter.