Swedish study lifts lid on Russian fake news
A Swedish soldier in Afghanistan. Russia appears keen to keep Sweden out of Nato. Source: Wikimedia
Sweden’s most prestigious foreign policy think-tank has accused Moscow of using fake news and forged documents to influence Swedish public opinion and politics.
The Swedish Institute of International Affairs said Sweden was the victim of “a wide array of active measures” aimed at “hampering its ability to generate public support in pursuing its policies”.
Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has told a defence conference that he “cannot rule out” Russian attempts to influence the Scandinavian nation’s elections.
At the People and Defence conference in Sälen, Löfven said Sweden could see similar attacks to those preceding the US presidential election.
“We should not rule it out and be naive and think that it does not happen in Sweden. That’s why information and cyber security is part of this strategy,” Löfven was quoted saying by the TT news agency. “We’ve got elections in France and in Germany this year and probably in Italy. I think all countries are now thinking about what could happen in our democracies.”
The institute’s study said Moscow used misleading stories on its state-controlled website, Sputnik, and public interventions by Russian politicians in Swedish domestic affairs.
The study alleged that forged documents and fabricated news items were republished by the Swedish media and then used by Sputnik and other Russian sources and distributed to fresh audiences.
The study said: “We are able to establish intent, dominant narratives, behavioural patterns and strategic goals, where the close correlation between Russian public diplomacy and active measures suggest the operation of a coordinated campaign.”
It said the main Russian aim appeared to be to “preserve the geo-strategic status quo” and reducing Nato influence and dissuading Sweden from joining the alliance.
In tandem with similar reports from Germany and the US, the study argued that a “growing body of research highlighting Russia’s increasing use of active measures as a foreign policy tool towards western states”.
“We believe it demonstrates an intent to influence decision-making,” one of the authors, Martin Kragh, told Dagens Nyheter newspaper. “That is in itself a reason to try to document and understand the ways in which it is being done.”
Some forgeries, purportedly from Swedish political figures, used fake letterheads, it said.
One example was a fake letter from February 2015, purportedly from the Swedish defence minister to the chief executive of the arms manufacturer BAE Systems Bofors, discussing arms sales to Ukraine.
Another concerned a fake plot between Sweden and Nato to send secret arms to Isis through Turkey.