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Russia's Involvement In Syria Worsens Migration Crisis, Zannier Says


America's top commander in Europe recently declared one big challenge for NATO is to prevent a new cold war. You could also say that is the job of our next guest, Lamberto Zannier. He is the secretary general of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which was created at the height of the Cold War to facilitate dialogue between Eastern and Western Europe. When he joined us, I put that to him.

There is actually a theory out there to do with the migration crisis in Europe that Russia may have purposely been bombing Syria within your campaign in order to send more Syrian migrants into Europe to destabilize Europe. Now, I'm wondering if you think that's far-fetched. But at the same time, it sort of fits the picture of a cold war.

LAMBERTO ZANNIER: Yeah, certainly Russian intervening in Syria hit a number of goals - protecting its own presence in this base in the Mediterranean, confirming its own support for the president. Of course...

MONTAGNE: President Assad.

ZANNIER: Yes, President Assad. But then, of course, the impact of the bombings on civilian infrastructure, on hospitals, et cetera, has created an additional wave of refugees that has hit Europe. It is very difficult to tell whether this was intended or not. But certainly, it would fit the picture in a way.

And even if unintended, this has created additional difficulties through Europe that Russia perceives now as a group of countries that applied sanctions and with whom Russia has an increasingly complicated relationship.

MONTAGNE: Right, so we've got Ukraine, we've got Syria - very different situations. But is there any other example that would fit into the notion of a new cold war?

ZANNIER: I don't want to, how can I say, corroborate too much the idea that we are...

MONTAGNE: (Laughter) That we're even having one, right.

ZANNIER: That we are in a cold war. We hope we are not. And we're trying, also, to work to avoid that this develops. But one of the points I would make is that, you know, the OSC, as you pointed out, was created in the Cold War environment to provide a platform for dialogue among parties that otherwise had problems talking to each other.

And sometimes we do feel that we are back to serving the same purpose and we're finding the same obstacles. And sometimes, we see the same tones in the dialogue that we saw at that time.

MONTAGNE: Well, the migration crisis, some fear it is tearing apart the European Union. One thing Americans have heard a lot about is that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is suffering the greatest crisis of her political career because she welcomed a refugee flow that now there's a backlash against in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. How much are you concerned about the damage the migration crisis might be doing?

ZANNIER: Yeah, I'm very concerned also because in this debate, there is a lot of confusion at this moment. And there is a need for a clear narrative. The debate on migration has been somehow securitized. It has been used also politically. And we see in a number of countries that there are sort of populist movements and leaders that are riding the wave of fear of migration, in a way.

So we need to prepare people. I think, first of all, there is and there will be, in general, a future increased movement of people. We have obligations, of course. And so what we need to see is compassionate solidarity by our leaders but also a context within which this is better communicated.

So we need a broad and comprehensive, but shared strategy on this that I personally find is missing today.

MONTAGNE: Well, thank you very much for joining us.

ZANNIER: It was my pleasure.

MONTAGNE: Lamberto Zannier is the secretary general of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He joined us in our studios in Washington, D.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.