Campaigns carried out against Russian desinformation in Western Europe have received raised concerns lately. They have been accused of smearing the peace movement and opposition to NATO under the pretext of fighting fake news using at times McCarthy methods. These campaigns are carried out by domestic and international forces, by secret or open formal and informal networks or simply by ready-made propaganda disseminated by several sources. NATO and EU, separately or together, the Atlantic Council and several other international initiatives as well as domestic bodies close to government or corporate agencies, have established institutions with many formal and informal links between each other with that purpose. Lately, the semi-secret British Integrity Initiative has received much attention.
In Sweden, this discussion has got a twist of its own, different from other countries and even different from Norway which is a country with an otherwise quite similar political culture. It has also lately won a great deal of interest in two of the biggest dailies of the country followed by sharp controversy in more of main stream media. A discussion fomented during two months especially by the peace movement and members of the Green Party.
It began in late January, when the news section of Aftonbladet, the biggest newspaper, took up the false claims of the Atlantic Council report Kremlin’s Trojan Horses 3.0. The report claimed that the firing of a Green Party senior foreign policy expert was due to frequent contacts with the Russian embassy. The news about the false accusation in the report were soon published by Expressen, Aftonbladet’s closest competitor.
The alarming accusations had not been approved by the Swedish Security Police and has since long been debunked by mass media. The author, Henrik Sundbom, a fellow of an NGO sponsored by the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise allowed himself to anyway to use the false information. It was strongly criticized by people in the environmental and peace movement together with several other attempts at defaming the environmental and peace movement. One example given by Sundbom to prove his case that those he accused was pro-Russian in their views was an article in a Swedish environmental magazine that explicitly stated that what happened on Crimea was a break of international law. In the twisted mind this was turned into the opposite in the Atlantic Council report. But the criticism was also directed against the Green leadership for its compliant behavior; however it declared the issue a matter of staff policy and thus of private, non-public nature. The McCarthy kind of blacklisting in practice could so far have its way.
In 2017 a similar criticism of the peace movement for being interlocutors of the Russian narrative had been put forward by Martin Kragh in an article written together with Sebastian Ågren, both associated to the Swedish Institute for International Affairs, published in the British magazine Journal of Strategic Studies. The article was strongly rejected by several people – see a hundred links at https://activistsforpeace.wordpress.com/2019/01/06/swedish-disinformation-research-controversy-links/ – who saw it as a McCarthyist campaign. He was defended by his colleagues at the Uppsala university but not by other academicians. Also Henrik Sundbom is associated to Swedish Institute for International Affairs and has cooperated closely with Martin Kragh publishing a report together in 2018.
Martin Kragh’s name appeared in the hacked material from the Integrity Initiative documents as a cluster leader for the Nordic countries This was brought up by some bloggers and a newspaper. As in 2017 Kragh did not respond to allegations or criticism except when bigger media made it necessary. This was the case a few hours before the criticism against his colleague Henrik Sundbom would go into print which there is reason to believe he knew. Then Martin Kragh stated on twitter that he had declined the offer from Integrity Initiative in 2016 of being Scandinavian ”cluster leader”. However, material to the article in Journal of Strategic Studies was, according to Kragh himself on the Swedish Radio in 2017, gathered by an anonymous group of ”journalists, researchers and others” during ”a long period”. Who belonged or belong to this group remains unknown. The material was also used for a sensational attack on Kremlin bootlickers in Expressen as if an information war against the peace movement was of acute necessity.
The following week a sharp quarrel burst out between the culture editors of Aftonbladet and Expressen. Åsa Linderborg at Aftonbladet questioned the role of Martin Kragh, head of the Russian program studies at Uppsala University, and asked for an inquiry into his role as alleged ”cluster leader” for the Integrity Initiative in the Nordic countries. The same day, Aftonbladet published a long feature article raising concerns regarding the biggest morning newspaper Dagens Nyheter’s publishing of a character assassination of a Russian oppositional journalist. He had attended a course in journalism in Sweden which was by the newspaper used to falsely present him as a Kreml agent.
The following day, Aftonbladet’s article was criticized by Expressen, owned by the same publishing house as Dagens Nyheter. The call for inquiring the role of Kragh was called ”disgusting”, another journalist that brought up the issue himself was accused as an ”impostor” and the article about character assassination was denigrated because one of the journalists behind it is has a father accused of being an antisemite. Thus, Expressen was able to bring together several different discussions usually kept apart. This hopefully should make ti possible to address character assassination as a method used by Kragh, Integrity Initiative and Dagens Nyheter alike. Only the Atlantic Council was kept out of the picture.
The week that followed in the middle of February saw even more main stream media attention. The conservative morning daily Svenska Dagbladet used all it had, guest editorial, cultural editorial, 9 professors in a letter to the editor, a feature article and finally an editorial, all giving the same view that what was going on was a Russian desinformation campaign against Martin Kragh started already in 2017. Swedish Radio and other newspapers followed suit. A Center party paper set the record with an editorial with 28000 characters describing in detail with names on persons and organization anyone that was involved in the claimed Russian desinformation campaign against Martin Kragh. What the article lacked was Russian sources except the liberal Nova Gazeta. The 150 other articles or so addressing the quality of Kraghs article and his role were Swedish apart from some positive in English the Guardian and similar publications.
The attempts to put all the attention on an alleged Russian desinformation campaign against Martin Kragh will not work. The Atlantic Council will also continue to be of interest, despite attempts to keep it out of the picture, as it is a relevant case highlighting the personal consequences of the McCarthyist campaigns. Furthermore, the allegations against so many in the peace movement for not having its own voice and only being the mouthpiece for Russia, has brought new people and organisations together that never cooperated before. None of these organizations have an influential newspaper or access to mainstream media. But all are used to work under such a condition and are thus resilient against the attempts to silence their voice. The struggle to defend themselves against the repressive Swedish think tanks and main stream media needs to be combined with forward looking demands for peace. Sweden might still bring some surprises to the debate concerning accusations against the peace movements and the Russian desinformation industry with all its interwoven and well funded projects pretending to protect democracy while sometimes doing the opposite.
Different contributors to the discussion
In most other countries, the discussion has reached a stalemate. Thus it is of interest what happens in Sweden. The discussion in Sweden concerning both the Integrity Initiative and the Atlantic Council is presented at https://activistsforpeace.wordpress.com/2019/01/05/integrity-initiative-and-the-connection-to-sweden-and-atlantic-council and https://activistsforpeace.wordpress.com/2019/01/05/swedish-responses-to-integrity-initiative-and-atlantic-council. Also Norway has had a trajectory very different from other countries. It is presented at https://steigan.no/2019/01/hos-integrity-initiative-and-atlantic-council-is-exposed-in-norway/.
The pattern of contributors in Sweden is very different from the patterns elsewhere. While in most countries those addressing the Integrity Initiative issue belong to the opposition to Western military intervention in Syria and other countries, and are generally leftwing, the critical actors in Sweden have a much broader base. There is also a stronger attempt of linking the Integrity Initiative to similar actors like the Atlantic Council or EU Disinfo and to domestic actors like the Swedish Institute for International Affairs and mainstream media. Who is not the only important matter rather what, how, when and why.
One contribution stands out as it was published in a Social Democratic trade unionist national webmag and is signed by seven people with a background in Friends of the Earth, Activists for Peace, the Green Party, and the Social Democrat party. This kind of collective initiative is not seen in any other country.
The main actor to adress the Integrity Initiative until the quarrel in main stream media started is the peace movement contributing 13 out of 75 responses so far. Also the anti austerity blog Gemensam has published a critical comment. There are also three contributions by present or former Green Party members. Together this makes up 17 contributions.
One contributor is the anti-imperialist blogger Anders Romelsjö with 7 texts. There is also an article at Synapze, a leftwing net magazine. This is a group that usually dominates the debate in other countries. The rest of contributions from the left is a trotskyist weekly, Internationalen, contributing two articles. This newspaper has an Anti Assad view on Syria in sharp contrast to to Romelsjö. Two other left wing bloggers addressed the issue from complete different points of view one being critical towards In total that makes 12 contributions by the left.
Another category are media watch dogs. One of the most appreciated is Mediespanarna, a podcast by two academicians in Umeå that analyzed the new information concerning Integrity Initiative in December. The facebook group Källkritik, fake news and desinformation have posted 7 times commented articles about Integrity Initiative and Atlantic Council. Comments are made of several key actors as the author of the Atlantic Council report and the head of the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB). This makes 8 contributions in this category.
A fourth category is right wing net magazines and bloggers. The first to publish the name of the former foreign policy expert employed by the Greens and falsely alleged Russian security risk was Rebecca Weidmo Uwell. She defended him against the accusations and Atlantic Council. In another right wing net magazine Egor Putilov accused the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) for preparing a crack down on freedom of speech in five articles while also questioning the role of Martin Kragh and Integrity Initiative in two of them. One more right wing net magazine has addressed one part of the growing debate. In total this makes 7 right wing contributors all addressing fairly narrow issues.
Finally the mainstream press. A regional Centerparty paper was the first main stream media to address the issue. They published a letter to the editor highly critical both of Atlantic Council and the Integrity Initiative on 21st of December. It would take a long time until bigger dailies started to write. But then it came, and it came quite a lot. It started on 29th of January in the news section in Aftonbladet, the biggest Swedish daily. Here the focus was upon false claims in the Atlantic Council concerning the Greens. This was followed up in the news section in Expressen, the main competitor. This was followed in Aftonbladet by 3 more stories on the same subject.
The last news article on the Greens and Atlantic Council was published 7th of February the same day as two more articles on Western biased character assassination was published by the cultural section of Aftonbladet as stated above. In one article the whole picture was presented from Atlantic Council to Integrity Initiative and possible Swedish connections. In another the biggest Swedish morning newspaper was criticized for character assassination of a Russian journalist critical towards corruption in his country but presented as a Russian agent while participating in an education for journalism in Sweden. Next day an angry reaction was published in the cultural section of Expressen accusing he competitor of using journalists linked to Julian Assange and that one had a father accused of being an antisemitic. That the role of alleged Integrity Initiative cluster leader in Sweden Martin Kragh was brought to attention was called disgusting. This was followed by 10 more articles in Swedish main stream media debunking the criticism against Kragh and 2 defending the criticism.
An article signed by 10 peace and environmental activists was refused not only by all main stream papers including Aftonbladet opinion section but also ETC, the biggest left wing weekly who together with 5 other red and green weeklies have kept quite throughout the three month debate. It can be added that Aftonbladet has strong internal differences. While the cultural section has been opposed to blaming the peace movement for acting in the interest of Russia, the news section more often than not carry news strongly biased against Russia, the opinion section open to debate have similar bias in this case and the editorial section is also strongly opposing Russia.
In general no qualified dialogue has taken place in Sweden during the long debate. For two months no reaction came against the 4 articles in printed press nor the many on different blogs. Only when Aftonbladet Kultur brought the issue to the public there was what best could be described as an outcry. Expressen allowed short 1500 character reactions to the criticism an article by the cultural editor while the other newspapers refused to publish any answers on their articles.
Oddly or maybe tellingly, the only country were there was a chance for a qualified debate about what happened in Sweden, was in Russia. Here a longer article by Aleksej Sachnin and Johannes Wahlström both living in Sweden was published in the liberal newspaper Nova Gazeta. It was commented by senior public service journalist Stig Fredriksson in an article using 3500 characters which gives enough space for saying something substantial.
Thus the kind of qualified debate necessary for a vital democracy cannot anymore be carried out in Sweden on equal terms in main stream media. It has to use liberal Russian massmedia to be able to keep democracy in Sweden vital.
In general the Swedish debate also differs in the way that much is based on empirical sources bringing up new issues or bringing new light to themes already discussed. There is less articles writing about the same details in similar manner. The few cases when republishing articles is not included in the statistics. Russian media is also almost totally absent from references. Instead, the original leaked sources is often used. There is no Russian media in the Swedish language and thus it is also not helpful for reaching the Swedish public. If Russian media is used for publicizing articles the choice is Nova Gazette in opposition to the government and not RT or Sputnik.
Contrary to Norway were main stream media early on asked people and political parties about both Atlantic Council and Integrity Initiative this did not happen in Sweden until the peace movement, Green bloggers and left wingers had addressed the issue during two months. Also contrary to Norway the accused political parties in the Atlantic Council report have refused to defend themselves. No other organization to the left, center or right reacted either. The only organization that made statements was Activists for peace.
Thus in Sweden the movement had neither the support of political parties or the massmedia. In this way the movement is not in the hands of intermediaries in political parties or journalists in the mass media. A dynamic has emerged concerning the overlapping McCarthyis campaigns against the peace movement including both black listing and character assassination against targeted persons as well as a general stamp on the peace movement for working in the interest of Kreml. If it is enough for changing the power of balance between the peace movement and our opponents that have had a strong hegemony since several years is still to be seen. At the moment main stream media seems overwhelmingly occupied by defending the claims made by Kragh and defame his critics. More than in any other country Integrity Initiative have achieved attention in Swedish main stream media. Seemingly the peace movement has been marginalized further.
In his latest contribution to the debate Martin Kragh stated:
”The operation that I have been exposed to started in Russian media, which claimed that I work for a strange organization with links to the British intelligence service. Everything is false.
But the claims spread further in Sweden, especially by right-wing and left-wing extremist groups, and a bit in social media. In the end, they were picked up by Aftonbladet which made a great deal of it. There you have an example of the entire spectrum of who participates.”
In spite of that one can have some hope that the peace movement can turn this debate among the broader public into questioning of smearing opponents to war there are great obstacle ahead. The overwhelming part of mainstream media is liberal and will probably try hard to marginalize the criticism, and so will also many established groups in society. They do anything to defame the peace movement as not only in the hands of Moscow but also a the core being aligned with right-wing and left-wing extremist groups when defending itself and others against the claims made by Kragh.
Summary concerning Swedish contribution to the discussion
• From peace, environmental, and anti-austerity movements, and the Greens: 22,5 %
• From mainstream media: 30,5 %
• From opposing parts of the left: 15,5 %
• From media watchdogs: 11 %
• From Rightwing media: 9%
• From foreign media: 6.5 %
• From NGO and desinformation experts: 5 %
Articles and one podcasts in chronological order
Mathias Cederholm, administrator fbgroup Källkritik, 25 november 2018,
Umer Ramshaid, 27 November 2018, UK’s Integrity Initiative Revelation May Lead To Improvement Of Russia-EU Relations – NGO
Marcello Ferrada de Noli, 27 November 2018, How UK’s Integrity [disinformation] Initiative backfires?
Romelsjö, Anders, 2 December 2019, Sverige deltar i Storbritanniens hemliga program för att svartmåla Ryssland. Vilka svenskar? (Translation to English: Sweden participates in the UK’s secret program to scandalize Russia. Which Swedes?)
Romelsjö, Anders, 3 December 2019, Desinformation av rysk desinformation av Martin Kragh, samordnare i Integrity Initiative (Translation to English: Disinformation of Russian disinformation by Martin Kragh, coordinator in the Integrity Initiative)
Romelsjö, Anders, 9 December 2019, Mäktigaste Nato-siten Atlantic Council uppmärksammar mig och min blogg. Smickrande? (Translation to English: The most powerful NATO site Atlantic Council pay attention to me and my blog. Flattering?)
Mathias Cederholm, administrator fbgroup Källkritik, 10 december 2018
Erik Linden and Jesper Enbom, 13 December 2019, Mediespanarna #360. Trollkvarnen
Mathias Cederholm, administrator fbgroup Källkritik, 15 december 2018.
Wåhlberg, Hans, 16 December 2018, NATOS:s trojanska hästar (Translation to English: NATO’s Trojan Horses), Hans lilla gröna blog
Lundström, Emma, 21 December 2018, Brittisk trollkvarn med svensk anknytning (Translation to English: British Troll Farm with Swedish connections), Internationalen,
Meurling, Carl, 21 December 2018, Sveriges Rysslandspolitik styrs utifrån (Translation to English: Sweden’s Russian policy is controlled from outside the country), Skånska Dagbladet Opinion
Aktivister för fred, 27 December 2018, The purpose of the Integrity Initiative and what it does – We are all in an ongoing war according to Chris Donnelly, founder and director of The Institute for Statecraft and former NATO advisor
Jan Wiklund, 1 January 2019, Agentvärlden är alltid lika sjuk
Pål Steigan, 5 January 2019, Atlanterhavskomiteen er SVÆRT sparsomme med sannheten (including Swedish connections)
Aktivister för fred, 5 January 2019, Integrity Initiative and the connection to Sweden and Atlantic Council
Aktivister för fred, 5 January 2019, Swedish responses to Integrity Initiative and Atlantic Council
Aktivister för fred, 6 January 2019, Integrity Initiative links from around 40 countries and some Atlantic Council links – Content
Aktivister för fred, 6 January 2019, Swedish Disinformation research controversy – links
Lars Drake, 6 January 2019, Nya exempel på misslyckad antirysk propaganda
Mathias Cederholm, administrator fbgroup Källkritik, 7 January 2019, Den tidigare läckan från det UK-baserade nätverket/tankesmedjan Integrity Initiative (och bakomliggande Institute for Statecraft), fylldes på med ytterligare dokument häromdagen,
Press info 8 januari 2019: Brittisk och amerikansk påverkan skadar demokratin
Bo Sundbäck, Eddie Olsson, Ellie Cijvat,Tord Björk, Hans Wåhlberg, Hans Sternlycke, Per Gahrton, 10 January 2019, Rena McCarthykampanjen mot MP och fredsrörelsen
Tord Björk, 12 January 2019, How Integrity Initiative and Atlantic Council is exposed in Norway
Pål Steigan, 13 January 2019, Integrity Initiative, klynger mot demokratiet (del 4)
Lundström, Emma, 18 January 2019, Skrämselpropagandan från Natos trojanska hästar
Romelsjö, Anders, 23 January, 2019, USA undersöker rysk inblandning i EU
Egor Putilov, 24 January 2019, MSBs interna mejl avslöjar: myndigheten förbereder antidemokratisk kupp
Egor Putilov, 24 January 2019, Demokratins dödgrävare
Egor Putilov, 25 January 2019, AVSLÖJAR: TV4 rådgör med MSB om ”förhållningssätt” i sin rapportering
Rebecca Weidmo Uwell, 25 January 2019, Var är Stålhammar?
Birger Schlaug, 26 January 2019, Den som anklagade ledande miljöpartister för att gå ryska ärenden tillbaka i riksdagen
Activists for Peace, 27 January 2019, Lithuanian repression of protesters against Holocaust denial
Egor Putilov, 28 January 2019, MSB vill få tillgång till avlyssning – ska ”identifiera påverkanskampanjer”
Martin Kragh, 28 January 2019, Twitter: Jag tackade 2016 alltså nej…
Mathias Cederholm, 29 January 2019, FB: Samhällsnytt (f.d. Avpixlat) is a problematic source…
Aktivister för fred, 29 January 2019, Stoppa USA-inspirerade yrkesförbud i Sverige
Olof Svensson, 29 January 2019, Sparkade MP-mannen utpekad på nytt: ”Hade kontakter med ryssar”
Per Lidholm and Filippa Rogvall, 29 January 2019, MP-mannen träder fram: ”Häxprocess”
Olof Svensson, 31 January 2019, Förra språkrörets kritik: ”Passiv tumrullning
Pierre Ringborg, 2 February 2019, Riksdagens mäktigaste politiker heter Pernilla Stålhammar och är huvudkällan i en rapport om Kreml:s trojanska hästar!
Olof Svensson, 3 February 2019, Nu räcker det med dumheter, Fridolin
Aleksej Sachnin and Johannes Wahlström, 5 February 2019, «Вас заставят поменять свое мнение»
Stig Fredriksson, 5 February 2019, Обвинения Мартина Крага — это клевета
Europa Terra Nostra, 5 February 2019, Desinformations-Netzwerk „Integrity Initiative“: Speerspitze im Propagandakrieg gegen Rußland
Olof Svensson, 7 February 2019, MP-toppens kritik: Tjänstemannen har behandlats mycket illa
Mattias Göransson and Johannes Wahlström, 7 February 2019, Spionfabriken på Marieberg
Åsa Linderborg, 7 February 2019, Svenska medier måste hålla rent framför egen dörr
Karin Olsson, 8 February 2019, Aftonbladet ägnar sig åt ren smutskastning
Chang Frick, 8 February 2019, Expressens Karin Olsson rasar mot uppgifter som kan fälla Peter Wolodarski i rätten
Johannes Wahlström, 12 February 2019, ”Olssons text ett klassiskt hafsverk”
Patrick Oksanen, 12 February 2019, Cyberstölden, förtalskampanjen och kulturchefen som tappar fattningen
Hans Wåhlberg, 13 February 2019, Patrik Oksanen – en redaktör som tappat fattningen?
Aleksej Sachnin, 13 February 2019, Karin Olsson är som en bot som hostar upp sörja
Claes Arvidsson, 13 February 2019. De som tar rösten från Kreml vidare som sin egen
Christer Ahlström, 14 February 2019, Angående uppgifter i Aftonbladet
Paul T. Levin, Torbjörn Becker, Li Bennich-Björkman, Dag Blanck, Stefan Hedlund, Matthew Kott, Claes Levinsson, Örjan Sjöberg and Erik Åsard, 14 February 2019, ”Vi står bakom Kragh – ta ryska hotet på allvar”
Lisa Irenius, 14 February 2019, Linderborgs allvarliga anklagelse vilar på mycket svag grund
Lisa Irenius, 14 February 2019, Den typ av anklagelser som nu riktas mot @MartinKragh1 kan leda till att forskare och journalister inte ens vågar närma sig ett så laddat ämne som Ryssland.
Ulrika Knutson, 14 February 2019, Ointresset för Ryssland blir en ond cirkel
Fokus Editorial, 15 February 2019, Ryssligt tjafs
Anders Romelsjö, 15 February 2019, Cyberstölden, förtalskampanjen och Oksanen som tappar fattningen
Tobias Ljungvall, 15 February 2019, Fler bör ta sig i kragen
Lars Drake, 15 February 2019, Patrik Oksanen – en ny Don Quijote
Anders Romelsjö, 15 February 2019, Forskare som backar upp kritiserade Martin Kragh – vanhedrar de kanske seriös forskning?
Mathias Ståhle, 16 February 2019, Så blev svenska medier del i ryskt informationskrig
Anders Romelsjö, 16 February 2019, Mer hård kritik av Martin Kraghs “Rysslands-arbete”
Tobias Hübinette, 16 February 2019, Delar av den svenska vänstern gör alltmer gemensam sak med delar av den svenska högerpopulismen och extremhögern vad gäller att stödja och sympatisera med Putins Ryssland
Olof Ehrenkrona, 17 February 2019, Aftonbladet krattar manegen för Kreml
Åsa Linderborg, 21 February 2019, Martin Kragh är ett demokratiskt problem
Håkan Rhombe, 21 February 2019, Penningtvätten
Egor Putilov, 22 February 2019, Om fascister
Karin Olsson, 23 February 2019, Linderborgs lögner om Kragh slår alla rekord
Martin Kragh, 24 February 2019, Något om Aftonbladets ryska desinformationskampanj
Martin Kragh, 24 February 2019, En strategi i Aftonbladets ryska desinfo-kampanj är att sprida så många olika påhopp på mig som möjligt, för att så tvivel om mig som person och forskare. Här bemöter jag några lögner, och berättar om de ryska högerextremister som backar AB.
Linda Nordlund, 27 february 2019, Martin Kragh: ”Målet är att få mig att sluta forska”
Knut Lindelöf, 27 February 2019, Många ord om mycket lite
Tom Andersson, 27 February 2019, Ovetenskaplig forskning bakom mediekriget