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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”.

“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.