Russia is deliberately attacking civilians in northern Syria in an attempt to intensify the refugee crisis, western diplomats and politicians have warned, in a sign that a fragile ceasefire agreement for the war-ravaged country is crumbling before it begins.
A pivotal part of Russia's strategy was "to exacerbate the refugee crisis and use it as a weapon to divide the transatlantic alliance and undermine the European project", US Senator John McCain said in a speech at an annual security conference in Munich on Sunday.
Two senior politicians from close US allies and a senior European intelligence official echoed Mr McCain's remarks, reflecting the bleak mood among western defence chiefs, diplomats and political leaders gathered for the conference.
Moscow was "weaponizing" the refugee crisis for leverage, one of the politicians warned. According to a European official, facilities such as bakeries and hospitals were being hit in an attempt to force the local population into capitulation and increase the flow of refugees towards Turkey and Europe.