Sweden Is Not Staying Neutral in Russia’s Information War

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Sweden has taken a proactive approach in combating disinformation about the treatment of Muslims, which has sparked protests in various countries. To address this issue, the country has established the Psychological Defense Agency, an agency under the Ministry of Defense. The Psychological Defense Agency has become the first line of defense for Sweden against foreign information attacks, particularly from Russia.

The agency has accused Russia of exploiting recent protests in Sweden, including the burning of copies of the Quran, to discredit the country and undermine its bid to join NATO. This has caused delays in Sweden’s accession to NATO due to objections from Turkey. The agency has observed a concerted online campaign by the Kremlin on social media and other platforms to amplify global reactions to these protests.

Sweden is now at the forefront of the fight against disinformation and its impact on national security, social cohesion, and democratic foundations. The government has recognized that foreign actors are actively exploiting protests in the country. Sweden’s prime minister has even stated that the country is facing the most serious security situation since World War II.

The challenge of combating disinformation is faced by many democratic countries that value free speech and diverse perspectives. The government cannot control the truth in a democracy, which means finding effective ways to counter disinformation without infringing on free speech rights.

The Psychological Defense Agency, which started operations in 2022, is a response to Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014 and subsequent disinformation campaigns. The agency’s main focus is countering information warfare and addressing foreign sources of disinformation.

The agency has faced intensive disinformation campaigns since its inception. It began with posts on social media expressing anger over the case of an immigrant in Sweden whose children were removed from his custody. These accusations escalated into false claims of Sweden kidnapping Muslim children and forcing them to violate Islamic traditions. The disinformation campaigns spread across Arabic-speaking countries, including Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon, and Turkey. Russia’s state television networks also circulated similar reports involving immigrant families from Latvia and claimed that Sweden would not allow the children to speak Russian.

The Psychological Defense Agency has taken measures to respond to these disinformation campaigns, including increasing its staff. It has also highlighted Russia’s role in amplifying protests featuring the burnings of the Quran. The agency has found connections between sources spreading false reports about kidnapping Muslim children and those involved in organizing the protests. The involvement of Russians in instigating these protests has also been suggested.

The agency, however, has not provided detailed evidence of Russia’s involvement, and its reports on disinformation campaigns have been limited. Most of its work involves advising other government agencies and raising awareness of foreign interference. The agency’s director general has emphasized the seriousness of the situation and Sweden’s need to combat information warfare.

Overall, Sweden’s Psychological Defense Agency serves as a model for democratic governments in countering disinformation while upholding free speech and democratic values. The agency’s efforts reflect the challenges faced by democracies in protecting their societies against information attacks from foreign adversaries.

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