Migrants may stream into Europe if Ukraine falls to Putin, French minister warns

Stéphane Séjourné says defeat for Ukraine would have an impact on the rest of Europe
Stéphane Séjourné says defeat for Ukraine would have an impact on the rest of Europe - FADEL SENNA/AFP

Ukraine’s fall would cause a tidal wave of “10 million migrants” fleeing to Europe, France has warned, adding that it has seen evidence that Russia “won’t stop” at its conquest of the country.

Speaking to France Inter radio, Stéphane Séjourné, the French foreign minister, said: “First of all, there is a risk of Ukraine collapsing and there are consequences to this risk.

“We’re talking about 10 million Ukrainians who could leave Ukraine in the event of a collapse. And we know very well, and have information, that Russia will not stop there.”

Mr Séjourné singled out Moldova as Vladimir Putin’s next target.

The warning comes after The Telegraph revealed that Russia is using mercenaries to control migration into Europe to try to destabilise governments.

Border police have identified the possibility that Putin will flood Europe with migrants, both through its eastern borders and through the regions in Africa controlled by his private militias, as a major security risk for this year.

Ben Wallace, the former defence secretary, told this newspaper: “Russia’s mission is to try and destabilise the West, and what they are exploiting is the generosity of the asylum system – the fact that European countries including Britain can’t respond in a way that they want to.

“The fact that bad people are manipulating it is even more reason why we need a root and branch reform of the asylum system – it is not fit for purpose.”

Tom Tugendhat, the security minister, said that The Telegraph’s revelations “demonstrate exactly why we are absolutely right to confront Putin not just in Ukraine but around the world”.

“This is something that they have been doing now for many years: they have weaponised it in different parts of the world, and it looks like they are trying to increase it,” he told Talk TV.

Eastern European leaders have consistently warned Putin could attempt to attack Nato if he was allowed by the West to succeed in Ukraine. Last week, Lord Cameron, the Foreign Secretary, said: “If we do not stand up to Putin, he will be back for more.”

The warning over a possible flood of refugees to the West appeared to be aimed at the French hard-Right, whose placatory tone towards Russia, Mr Séjourné implied, could see France facing mass migration. This is a major concern for Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, which is polling to come first in European elections in June.

“Everything we are doing is to avoid war,” he said.

The comments came a day after Putin threatened nuclear conflict should the West send ground troops to help the country Russia invaded.

Unease amongst allies

Earlier this week, Emmanuel Macron, the French president, refused to rule out the deployment of Western ground troops, sparking unease among his allies gathered in Paris. Almost all of them distanced themselves from the remarks.

Mr Séjourné warned would-be appeasers, notably the French hard-Right, that the West was facing a new Munich Agreement. He was referring to the 1938 deal between UK, France and Fascist Italy that allowed Germany to annex part of Czechoslovakia in the vain hope it would quench Hitler’s imperialist ambitions. It has since become the byword for failed appeasement.

“We cannot find ourselves in the same period as September 1938, when Czechoslovakia was abandoned for a short-lived peace in the Sudetenland,” he said, referring to the territory where more than three million people, mainly ethnic Germans, lived.

Mr Séjourné denied that Mr Macron’s suggestion of ground troops was a mistake given the reaction of his allies. “A very clear framework has been set, namely to put Russia in check without going to war with Russia. And within that framework, nothing is ruled out.

“It contributes to strategic ambiguity, but at the same time it puts us on the right side of history. I’m very happy with it.”

As for Putin’s nuclear threat, he said this was nothing new. “When we decided to send military equipment, he raised the nuclear threat. When we decided to send tanks, he raised the nuclear threat. When we decided to send planes, he raised the nuclear threat,” he said.

“So now we’re taking it to the next level, ruling out anything, and he’s raising the nuclear threat.”

Mr Séjourné said that the French president’s comments were justified because Russia had changed its “stance” and was already “attacking France” and Europe.

He said: “We are in a fragile situation with the preparations for the European elections and the Olympic Games… It’s their services, our public services, our transport, our hospitals. Imagine for two minutes that we had no hospitals in the Paris region, that transport came to a standstill because of Russian computer attacks. All this means that Russia has changed its stance.”

He then issued a thinly veiled broadside at Ms Le Pen, who has long been close to Putin and who this week accused Mr Macron of “taking a further step towards belligerence, posing an existential risk to 70 million French people”.

“Let’s not work with the Kremlin’s language and doctrine,” said Mr Séjourné.

“A number of political parties are playing into Russia’s hands today, either knowingly or unknowingly.”

Unmanned aerial vehicles

France will order 100 drones to deliver to Ukraine this summer, Sébastien Lecornu, the defence minister, said.

He described the unmanned aerial vehicles as “remotely operated munitions”, suggesting they will be capable of carrying out attacks on Russian forces.

But after Mr Macron insisted that “everything that is necessary” must be done to ensure Russian defeat, his defence minister ruled out donations of French-made Mirage fighter jets.

Mr Lecornu said Paris’ focus would remain on providing Kyiv’s air force with precision-guided bombs.

He said France needed to focus on “useful” and “effective” military aid, and that the Mirage fighters would be too complicated.