(Vatican Radio) Russia has denied that it is targeting civilians in Syria amid fresh accusations that Moscow's military intervention in that country has displaced more than half a million Syrians since September, while 2016 is expected to see even more Syrians flooding Europe than the record numbers seen last year. Turkish and American leaders have accused Russia of using refugees from Syria as a geopolitical tool to further undermine stability in Turkey, the European Union, and the NATO military alliance.
Listen to Stefan Bos' report:
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu says Russia is in his words "behaving like a terrorist organization and forcing civilians to flee" by carrying out air strikes "without any discrimination between civilians and soldiers, or children and the elderly."
Outspoken U.S. Senator John McCain agrees. He believes Russian President Vladimir Putin's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime is intentionally creating a fresh, destabilizing flood of refugees aimed at overwhelming Turkey and the rest of Europe.
"Mr. Putin is not interested in being our partner," McCain said. "He wants to re-establish Russia as a major power in the Middle East. He wants to use Syria as a live-fire exercise for Russia's modernizing military, he wants to turn Latakia province into a military outpost from which to harden and enforce a Russian sphere of influence — a new Kaliningrad, or Crimea — and he wants to exacerbate the refugee crisis and use it as a weapon to divide the trans-Atlantic alliance and undermine the European project."
Yet, the Kremlin has denied wrongdoing saying its forces have never attacked hospitals, either intentionally or mistakenly. And Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev claims Russia is fighting terror as well as defending its interests in Syria. "We are fighting there because a lot of the militias fighting there are from Russia and they would otherwise return to us to carry our terror attacks. But these people must stay there. Civilians are not affected."
Though Moscow says its actions are primarily aimed at the Islamic State group, Western officials maintain that its actions have created a new wave of as many as half a million refugees.
Many kilometres away from the front lines, European countries have expressed concerns over an expected influx of refugees to Europe through the notorious Balkans route.
Hungary announced it is closing three key railway crossings with Croatia, while neighbouring Austria said it plans to further reduce the number of asylum seekers allowed entry into that country.
On Friday Austria's government officially introduced a daily quota of 80 migrants a day to apply for asylum at its borders while allowing up to 3,200 other people looking for asylum elsewhere to pass through its territory.
The measure is seen by critics as German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “open door” policy for refugees and the European Union attempt quest to seek a solution for the refugee crisis along with Turkey.