The Italian government on Monday said Russian mercenary group Wagner was behind a surge in migrant boats trying to cross the central Mediterranean as part of Moscow’s strategy to retaliate against countries supporting Ukraine.
“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,” Defence Minister Guido Crosetto said in a statement.
Some 20,000 people have reached Italy so far this year, compared to 6,100 in the same period of 2022, interior ministry figures show, and the migration issue is piling pressure on the rightist government.
In an expletive-laden voice message posted on his Telegram channel, Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin responded: “We have no idea what’s happening with the migrant crisis, we don’t concern ourselves with it.”
He then used a series of obscenities to describe Crosetto and to urge him to pay attention to his own country.