Russia waging disinformation war against Sweden: Report

“We believe it demonstrates an intent to influence decision-making,” Martin Kragh, one of the report’s authors, told Dagens Nyheter newspaper. “That is in itself a reason to try to document and understand the ways in which it is being done.”

The study identified twenty-six forgeries that surfaced in Sweden between the end of 2014 and mid-2016. Most first appeared on “obscure Russian and/or Swedish-language Web sites.” Some, supposedly from Swedish politicians, used fake letterheads to give the impression of authenticity, the report said.

Ten forged documents were directly with Swedish business and politics, according to the report, which examined three of the documents in detail. One was a letter in February 2015, supposedly from Sweden’s defense minister to the chief executive of the arms manufacturer BAE Systems Bofors, discussing arms sales to Ukraine (BAE never considered selling arms to Ukraine).

Another forged document, supposedly from Sweden’s chief international public prosecutor, rejected a “request” from Ukraine to drop a case against a Swedish citizen accused of war crimes (there was never such a request).

The third fake document detailed a supposed conspiracy between Sweden and NATO secretly send weapons to Islamic State via Turkey.

The study noted that the forged documents contained sufficient factual and other mistakes which allowed the Swedish authorities, after an examination, to determine that the documents were fakes – but by then the documents had been widely circulated on social media, Swedish and Russian Web sites and, in the mainstream media.

In “their level of detail and the instrumental exploitation of non-household names,” the forgeries and fake news stories “suggest the originators of the documents have access to comprehensive intelligence on Swedish society,” the study said.

The study also identified “troll armies” targeting journalists and academics critical of Russia, hijacked Twitter accounts, and pro-Kremlin NGOs operating in Sweden as additional tools Russian has been using in it information war on Sweden.

The report’s other author, Sebastian Åsberg, told Radio Sweden that an important weapon in Russia’s arsenal was the Swedish-language version of Sputnik News, the Russian state-funded news Web site. The Swedish version of Sputnik published 4,000 stories between early 2015 and spring 2016, when it was closed.

The overwhelming majority of these stories belonged in categories such as “crisis in the west,” “positive image of Russia,” “Western aggression,” “international sympathy with Russia,” “Western policy failures,” or “divisions in the Western alliance,”, the study said.

Many of the stories offered a highly negative view of NATO or the EU in particular, Åsberg said, adding that the false information contained in Sputnik articles had made its way into parliamentary debates.

On Monday, Sweden’s prime minister, Stefan Löfven, told a national defense conference that he “cannot rule out” Russia trying to influence the country’s next elections, which are due in 2018.

“We should not rule it out and be naive and think that it does not happen in Sweden. That’s why information and cybersecurity is part of this strategy,” Löfven told the TT news agency.

Last Friday, the four most senior leaders of the U.S. intelligence community presented president-elect Trump with a detailed report, based on both digital forensics and human sources, offering incontrovertible evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election, and providing proof that Vladimir Putin had personally “ordered an influence campaign” during the election to tip the balance in Trump’s favor.

— Read more in Martin Kragh and Sebastian Asberg, “Russia’s strategy for influence through public diplomacy and active measures: the Swedish case,” Journal of Strategic Studies (5 January 2017): 1-44 (doi: org/10.1080/01402390.2016.1273830)