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Russian military intelligence operation in Sweden, besides blocking the nation’s NATO membership bid, could raise the level of terrorist threat in the country

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Russia has masterminded and organized the effort to destabilize Sweden on religious grounds. The operation aims to hamper Sweden’s NATO integration plans, escalate relations with Muslim countries, and create grounds for the acts of terror on the part of Islam followers who arrived in Sweden as refugees.

Therefore the Kremlin also attempts to provoke riots and violence with the subsequent higher risk of international terrorist organizations intensifying their operations in Sweden (a secondary goal). 

On January 21, 2023 leader of the Hard Line partly Rasmus Paludan publically burned the Quran outside Türkiye’s embassy in Stockholm. According to the Swedish TV channel SVT, it was a local journalist, Chang Johannes Frick, who proposed that Paludan burn the Quran. He also guaranteed that any damage that the Hard Line leader may sustain in respect to the stunt will be covered. 

Russian military intelligence has likely exploited unsuspecting Paludan with the mediation of Chang Johannes Frick, who, according to multiple signs, is a GRU asset recruited for psyops. The location – the area outside Turkey’s embassy in Stockholm – was chosen specifically as the act targeted Ankara. The operation was held ahead of the scheduled visit to Sweden of Turkey’s defense minister. In 2023, the elections will be held in Türkiye, while incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is competing with the Arab world for influence on Muslims worldwide. To Sweden’s move to apply for NATO membership following Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine Türkiye responded with a demand to extradite representatives of Kurdish forces and suspects in the 2016 coup d’état case. At the same time, Stockholm’s accession aspirations became a matter of concern for Moscow. As a result, the Kremlin plotted an operation aiming to escalate contradictions between Türkiye and Sweden amid the upcoming elections in Ankara, realizing that an attack on a religious symbol of Islam can’t be ignored during an ongoing campaign.

It is not a coincidence that the riots occur against the backdrop of reports that Sweden could join NATO and at a time when Moscow has voiced threats to Stockholm over its chosen course of action. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova has said that, “if Sweden and Finland join NATO, this could lead to “negative implications” for peace in northern Europe.

Chang Johannes Frick (until 1995 – Chang Georg Lindberg) owns a Nyheter idag online newspaper and hosts a show on SD Riks TV channel (which is financed by the Sweden Democrats party). There are numerous signs indicating that the man covertly cooperates with and is affiliated with Russia’s GRU military intelligence. This connection raises no doubts as he previously worked for more than a year for Russia’s state-owned news agency RT/Russia Today as a “freelancer with regular tasks” for Ruptly, which is RT’s subsidiary.  Affiliated with the Russian defense ministry and military intelligence, RT took up an active role in the coordinated efforts to compromise the international inquiry into the downing of MH17 in 2014. 

RT and Sputnik’s Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan also  cooperates with the Russian defense ministry and military intelligence. It is important to bear in mind that at the dawn of Simonyan’s career in journalism, she was a war correspondent covering the war in Chechnya. This indirectly confirms her ties with the GRU. The defense ministry in 2005 even awarded her a medal. Then, in 2008, she covered the Russian military campaign aimed to seal control of the South Ossetia.

RT actively engaged her in their psyops on foreign soil. In his articles, Frick justified Russia’s Crimea grab and war crimes in Syria, as well as praised the Putin regime, while systematically criticizing the US and NATO. These narratives are fully in line with the content of most GRU psyops run abroad.

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•        Since 2012, he has been a partner of Polina Urvantseva, a Russian national born in Chelyabinsk in July 1989. Handling foreign assets with the help of young Russian women is one of the classic practices preached by Russian intelligence since the Cold War times.

•        In 2017, Chang Frick covered a visit to Russia of a lawmaker with the ultra-right party Sweden Democrats, Pavel Gamov, who has Russian roots. According to The New York Times, in 2018, Russia helped the Sweden Democrats achieve a record-breaking success in parliamentary elections by fueling anti-migrant moods and promoting across social media the websites affiliated with nationalists.

In 2018, Nyheter idag, unlike most Western  media platforms, covered Russian elections in a positive light. Today, Frick’s outlet focused on circulating anti-Turkish rhetoric across Sweden (Turkey’s involvement in the killing of Kurds in Syria, oil deals with the Islamic State, granting asylum to Islamic terrorists, blackmailing Europe with refugees, and Erdogan’s involvement in the 2015 refugee crisis), provoking Turkey to stand up against Sweden’s appeal to join NATO. It is highly likely that the content spun by the outlet reflects the tasks set by Moscow depending on the relevant agenda.

According to our estimates, Russia chose Paludan for the stunt due to the fact that he had already taken part in burning the Quran in Denmark, Germany, and France, as well as demonstrations of the prophet’s image, which is severely banned in Islam. 

Paludan is a Danish politician, founder of the far-right anti-Islamist political party Stram Kurs (“Hard Line”), which demands a ban on practicing Islam in the country and the deportation from Denmark of all migrants earlier granted asylum. Frick’s testimony claiming he stands behind Paludan’s stunt indicates attempts to minimize repercussions for Paludan as an act of promised damage compensation for the executioner.

Thus, the scenario was likely chosen of an active measure through an act religious provocation. Earlier, similar measures eventually fueled mass riots and even terrorist acts, as in the case of the Charlie Hebdo HQ in France. Paludan’s far-right ideology and anti-migrant policies totally fit the Kremlin in running intelligence operations within the wide framework of the anti-migrant movement across Europe, which Moscow has been generously cultivating since 2015.

Paludan has long gained notoriety for his anti-migrant protests and Quran-burning acts in districts populated by ethnic minorities. The Danish court even found him guilty of racism and slander. 

However, the choice of Stockholm and the Turkish embassy goes beyond Paludan’s modus operandi in his anti-Islamic efforts. Therefore it is highly likely that his anti-Islamic activity was exploited by third parties to achieve political goals.On January 24, Zvezda, a media outlet run by the Russian defense ministry, posted an article covering Paludan’s stunt, putting an emphasis on the worsening of relations between Sweden and Türkiye.

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