US President Barack Obama said Monday that his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin is trying to undermine European unity, which he sees as a threat. Speaking to CBS News, Obama said Europe's migrant crisis is also a problem for the United States.
"But more importantly, more strategically, is the strain it's putting on Europe's politics, the way that it advances far-right nationalism, the degree to which it is encouraging a breakup of European unity, that in some cases, is being exploited by somebody like Mr. Putin," he said. Putin sees NATO, the European Union and transatlantic unity as a threat, Obama added.
"Now, I think he's mistaken about that," he said. "I've indicated to him that, in fact, a strong, unified Europe working with a strong, outward-looking Russia, that's the right recipe. So far, he has not been entirely persuaded."
Obama was speaking at the end of a trip to the Middle East and Europe, where he urged European leaders to show greater unity in the face of lingering economic recession, an extremist terror threat and the huge flow of migrants from the Middle East and elsewhere. He also urged Britain not to vote to leave the European Union in a referendum in June.
In September 2015, Putin accused Europe of "blindly following America's orders." He also accused US media of being hypocritical in its reaction to the suffering of migrants arriving in Europe, many of them fleeing the war in Syria. "I see with astonishment how some American media now criticizes Europe for excessive cruelty, as they see it, to migrants," Putin said.
In December 2015, President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz warned that there were "forces trying to pull it apart." He did not specify what the danger that threatens the EU was, but according to Reuters, much of the interview revolved around the migrant crisis, which has brought Europe's unity and tolerance into question during the last year.
Previously, Marine Le Pen, the head of France's far-right National Front (FN), admitted that her party received money from a Russian bank, according to The Times. There has already been growing evidence that the Kremlin backs Eurosceptic and xenophobic far-right parties across the continent, according to reports on the news website The Week.
It reported that Le Pen admitted that her anti-immigrant and anti-EU party received 9 million euros last September from the Russian-owned First Czech-Russian Bank. France 24 also quoted party treasurer, Wallerand de Saint-Just, as saying that "the Russian loan would cover part of the FN's campaigning expenses ahead of national elections in 2017," meaning the money would be used to fund election campaigns.
Russian loans are not only being received by France, according to reports. Other Euroseptic parties allegedly receiving Russian loans include Golden Dawn of Greece, Vlaams Beland of Belgium, Jobbik of Hungary and the Freedom Party of Austria, The Week reported.
Meanwhile, France 24 cited a report by the French weekly Nouvel Observateur which suggests that FN leaders had been in communication with the Russian ambassador in Paris on a regular basis and that "the Kremlin considers the party has the ability to reverse the course of European history in favor of Moscow." According to France 24, Le Pen also made multiple trips to Moscow after she took over for her father in 2011.
Last month, a top U.S. and NATO commander in Europe, Philip Breedlove, warned that Putin and his ally Bashar Assad have turned the refugee crisis into a weapon to undermine Europe's security and unity.
The supreme allied commander in Europe for the 28-member military alliance said the massive flow of migrants from war-torn Syria has had a destabilizing effect on the European countries where they have found refuge, and that has worked to Moscow's advantage. "Together, Russia and the Assad regime are deliberately weaponizing migration in an attempt to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve," Breedlove told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Speaking of Russia's six-month air campaign in support of Assad, and the Syrian leader's use of barrel bombs in civilian areas, Breedlove said Moscow and Damascus are deliberately fueling the mass displacement of Syrians.
"These indiscriminate weapons used by both Bashar Assad, and the non-precision use of weapons by the Russian forces, I can't find any other reason for them other than to cause refugees to be on the move and make them someone else's problem," Breedlove said. The four-star general also accused Russia of posing a growing threat to the United States itself. The self-asserting policies implemented by Russia during the Ukraine crisis – amassing Russian troops on the Ukrainian border and financially supporting rebels in eastern Ukraine – have led to increasing tensions and deteriorating bilateral relations between the West and Moscow ever since the hostilities erupted in April 2014.