Just to show how Russian disinformation campaigns reach all parts of the globe, look no farther than the meddling going on in Sweden currently. Two events have played a part in the concerted false narrative that actually are real:

  • Sweden has overtly joined a desire to join NATO which has manifested since the Russian invasion of Ukraine
  • An Iraqi refugee in Sweden burned copies of the Quran in front of one of the country’s largest mosques twice this summer, a few months after a similar event took place in another part of Sweden

What does one have to do with the other? NATO membership requires all 30 nations who belong to organization must agree to a new country becoming a member. Turkey, a predominately-Muslim nation, has shown opposition to Sweden’s membership, mainly due to the Quran burning incidents and a perceived lack of action by Sweden’s government.

While Sweden has condemned the acts, the fundamental rights associated with speech and assembly are carved into their constitution, which protects citizens from government action.

Not surprisingly, Sweden has offered legitimate proof the original Quran burning that took place in January was staged by a journalist with ties to the Kremlin. Russia has used their normal online tactics of bots and trolls to fuel mass anger and protests over the event, according to the recently formed Swedish Psychological Defense Agency, who is doing what they can to counter the propaganda campaign. The Iraqi refugee who had been involved in the last two burnings, according to news sources, will not answer questions about his ties to Russia.

The Swedish ambassador to Iraq was booted from the country because of the tension due to the incidents. According to multiple news agencies, hackers identifying themselves as Muslims from Sudan executed Denial of Service attacks against the Swedish government as a form of hacktivism against the Quran burnings, however, officials and intelligence agencies from other countries attribute the attacks to Russian connected cyber threat groups.

Disinformation as part of the old USSR playbook has been around since Lenin. A Soviet KGB defector said more money was spent on Vietnam antiwar protests in the United States than arming the North Vietnamese. With amplification tools such as social media at their disposal, it doesn’t look like Russia will throw away that playbook anytime soon.

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Joe Jabara, JD, is the Director, of the Hub, For Cyber Education and Awareness, Wichita State University. He also serves as an adjunct faculty at two other universities teaching Intelligence and Cyber Law. Prior to his current job, he served 30 years in the Air Force, Air Force Reserve, and Kansas Air National Guard. His last ten years were spent in command/leadership positions, the bulk of which were at the 184th Intelligence Wing as Vice Commander.