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Nordic media coalition uncovers Russian disinformation campaign

False rumors about anti-Ukraine protests, fake news sites and baseless accusations of pipeline sabotage are just some of Russia’s recent disinformation efforts, according to a network of investigative journalists in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland.

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (CN) — The Russian intelligence service GRU has been in the spotlight in Denmark recently ever since the documentary “The Shadow War” and a series of journalistic investigations revealed how Moscow has carried out disinformation campaigns in Nordic countries and mobilized for a hybrid war.

Last month, it was revealed that civilian fishing vessels from Russia docking in both Norway and Denmark's Faroe Islands carried radio equipment fit for military surveillance. The investigation has caused a political stir and a call for more defensive mobilization in the Arctic region.

It is now being reported by a coalition of Scandinavian journalists that civilians in Denmark, Norway and Sweden with ties to Russian authorities have spread false rumors about anti-Ukraine protests in major European cities, and that the GRU has published fake news sites targeted at a Nordic and Baltic audience. An example of the latter is the website Independent North that covers, among others, local hostility towards Russians, loose immigration policies and new weapon donations to Ukraine.

Frederik Hugo Ledegaard Thim, one of the leading investigative journalists from DR, the national Danish broadcasting corporation, told Courthouse News that reporters wanted to find out if Russia is prioritizing strategic disinformation operations in Nordic countries, or if the region is considered “too small and insignificant” in a geopolitical perspective.

“But that was not the case. We found a network of 152 people, who actively and systemically spreads Russian disinformation," Thim said. "They are either members of the extreme right-wing segment or the extreme left-wing segment and have connections to people in Europe working for the Russian state media or intelligence services."

Recently, one of the biggest disinformation operations involved spreading stories about Ukrainians in Europe and Europeans burning Turkish flags or participating in anti-Erdoğan protests.

The campaign is inspired by Danish-Swedish right-wing politician Rasmus Paludan’s provocative Quran burnings in Sweden that created diplomatic tensions between Sweden and Turkey earlier this year, according to Thim.

The end goal is simply to create internal discord in Western and Scandinavian countries.

“Our investigations show how Russia is not only targeting big countries like the U.S., England or Germany. And even though the effects are currently seen in conspiracy circles of our society, the disinformation efforts can intensify and spread more towards the mainstream. So we need to be aware,” Thim said.

He added that Russian actors have been somewhat successful in spreading false rumors about both England and the U.S. being the perpetrators behind the sabotage of Russia's Nord Stream gas pipelines, which American and European officials have blamed on a pro-Ukrainian saboteur group.

That Russia carries out disinformation campaigns in Europe is not a new a phenomenon. In fact, it's been seen since 2014, when Putin first invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea, said Copenhagen University disinformation expert Yeygeniy Golovchenko.

“The operations are relatively easy and cheap to perform, so Russia’s motivation is high. A known tactic is to present the West as a place of moral decay on the brink of collapse. It is in Russia’s interest to blow up divisions and disagreements in the media and public opinion,” Golovchenko said in an interview.

He added, "This is one of the first times we have indications of a direct link between the Russian state and disinformation campaigns in Denmark and the Nordic countries, where they use local language and direct false profiles towards a national audience.”

English speakers can listen to the Nordic investigations on Russian spy activities and follow the journalists as they reveal evidence on the podcast "Cold Front."

Categories / Government, International, Media, Politics

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