Syrian Civil War

In early 2011, during an “Arab Spring” across the Middle East, public protests and a civil uprising began in Syria. Local militias began an insurgency against the Assad government, with generally increasing violence through a presidential election in June 2014, which Assad won with nearly 90% of the vote. The US and EU viewed the election as illegitimate. Around the time of the election, the Islamic State group (ISIL) began to take control of Syrian territory, and the U.S. and its allies began to conduct airstrikes on ISIL in September 2014, and began arming and training rebel forces against ISIL and against the Assad government. Beginning September 2015, Russia also began airstrikes against both ISIL and US-allied rebels to support the Assad government. Peace talks in late October 2015 failed to achieve any agreement between the US and Russia on the Assad government’s future. The war continued, with US-backed rebel forces clashing with Russian-backed Assad forces as both fought ISIL. Wiki

In March 2016, US General Philip Breedlove, Supreme Allied Commander of Europe with NATO, told the US Senate Armed Services Committee that Russia was “weaponizing” migration. Russian war efforts, in partnership with Assad (e.g., the indiscriminate use of barrel bombs, chemical weapons, airstrikes, and heavy artillery on neighborhoods, hospitals, and schools), were intentionally driving citizens out of Syria and into Europe as refugees, in an attempt to destabilize European countries and to stoke right-wing anti-migrant sentiment. Source1, Source2

From the Summer of 2015 through March 2016, Finland and Norway reported a flow of refugees and asylum seekers from Syria & Afghanistan entering their countries from Russia. Initially, thousands of migrants arrived via bicycle across Russia’s previously tightly controlled border with Norway; after Norwegian officials lobbied Russia to reintroduce tight border controls there, the migrants’ route shifted to enter into Finland, fist via bicycle, and later, in decrepit Soviet-era cars. They speculated Russian government involvement. Source

More generally, Russia’s activities in Syria appear only to be one facet of Putin’s broad efforts to drive right-wing nationalist, isolationist sentiment in the West to weaken Western alliances such as NATO. Source