Sweden continues to be targeted by information and influence campaigns from Russia and Iran, Sweden’s Minister of Civil Defense said on Tuesday.
The “actors who were active in the campaign against the social services have partly switched to spreading misinformation about Quran burnings,” said Carl-Oskar Bohlin (M), Minister for Civil Defence, according to Sweden’s national television station SVT.
This is the second time that officials in Stockholm have said that they are the target of misinformation and disinformation campaigns by “Russian-backed actors.” The same accusation was made in July with Russia and Iran having both tried to exploit or enflame anger over activists who burned the Quran in Sweden.
“Sweden is the target of a disinformation campaign supported by state and state-like actors with the aim of damaging Swedish interests and … Swedish citizens,” the minister, Carl-Oskar Bohlin, told reporters at a press conference in July.
Now the government has provided an update on who has been behind the campaigns and has warned that this could lead to increased extremist threats. While the July report spotlighted Russia’s role, today the report also notes that there are connections to Iran according to Bohlin. Stockholm has seen an escalation in the campaigns targeting Sweden.
“These actions have not infrequently been carried out by people with vague connections to Sweden and thereby been reproduced in an incorrect way in the international information environment,” the report said.
Sweden says it’s increasing defenses
With these state-backed threats, the government has sought to increase defenses. One way it is doing this is by tasking the Agency for Psychological Defense to curb these influence operations.
The agency says that it “identifies, analyses and counters foreign malign information influence activities and other disinformation directed at Sweden or at Swedish interests. This includes producing reports and analysis relating to certain situations, threat actors, and societal vulnerabilities as well as proposing relevant countermeasures.”
It also works with other government agencies and uses technology to identify and counter foreign malign information influence activities.
Now the report says that they are focusing on the campaigns against Sweden that came in the wake of the Quran burnings.
“This involves, among other things, strengthening the authority’s ability to provide support, but also increased international cooperation and support through advice and strategic communication,” the report says.
Bohlin said that the country must be united against these influence operations.
Iran tried to exploit the Quran-burning controversy in recent months. On August 20 Iran summoned Sweden and Danish diplomats in Tehran to slam the two countries about anti-Muslim incidents. Iran also bashed Sweden in July, January, and April. Iran’s regime has tried to exploit this issue by fanning anti-Sweden sentiments and blaming the government of Sweden for the actions of a few extremist activists.
Russian disinformation campaigns have been in the spotlight this year. Germany said recently that it did not see a decline in Russia’s actions and France said in June that it uncovered a disinformation campaign linked to Moscow. Russia has also exploited the Niger coup to spread anti-western information, reports said at The Guardian on Monday. Critique of support for Ukraine in the West is often said to be influenced by Moscow.
Iran has also been accused over the last several years of increasing its influence operations in Europe. However, Iran has also accused the West of being influenced by anti-Iran disinformation campaigns in a statement from Iran’s foreign ministry in October 2022. Iran often targets activists abroad in the context of disinformation. Its attempt to exploit Muslims and to target Sweden appears to be a new effort.