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Sweden

Sweden

  • Sweden’s free and independent press is one of the country’s most important assets in combatting fake news
  • Swedish academia is perhaps the most visible player in analysing and combatting Russian subversive tactics
  • The main focus of the government so far is on building and maintaining efficient cyber defence and counter-espionage measures

Relations with the Russian Federation


The awakened. These countries have significantly updated their policies and concerns following Russian aggression in Ukraine.[1]

Following the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Sweden condemned Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and began rethinking its own defence policy, examining the country’s strategic vulnerability after a series of Russian military probes entered Swedish waters and airspace. Sweden’s interest in Russia is primarily concerned with human rights, the economy, and energy, though the latter plays a far less significant role since Sweden’s energy imports are very diverse.

Political acknowledgement of the threat


The Prime Minister’s office publishes the annual national security strategy, with the latest one emphasising the necessity of identifying and neutralising propaganda campaigns.[2] Prime Minister Stefan Löfven warned that Russia may try to undermine the upcoming Swedish elections, citing the role that Russian hackers had in the US presidential elections.[3] Löfven reiterated this point in a speech at the annual Folk och Försvar conference in 2018 by warning those considering interfering in the September 2018 elections to ‘Stay away’.[4]

Government activities against Russian influence & disinformation


The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) is the national civil defence agency under the Ministry of Defence.[5] Amongst its primary civil defence measures, MSB has a subdivision called the National Board of Psychological Defence (SPF), tasked with educating the public about being more critical towards news, among other things. [6] In the build up to the 2018 election, MSB is, for the first time, educating election officials to be prepared for election meddling or influence operations targeting the election.[7]

The Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven also announced the creation of a new government agency tasked with creating a ‘psychological defence’. This agency will identify and counter influence operations, ensure a robust societal defence against psychological operations, as well as offer a source of factual information in a potential crisis situation.[8]

The Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI) is a government research institute tasked with analysing and researching issues of relevance to national defence. It highlighted the threat emanating from Russia’s militarisation.[9] Amongst the publications of the institute, there is one about developing a system to analyse and counter disinformation on Twitter.[10]

The approach of intelligence agencies to Russian interference


The Swedish Security Service (Säpo) has warned about Russian spy activity targeting key Swedish infrastructure objects, which raised suspicion that Russian spies may have been behind a 2016 sabotage of telecommunications masts used by Swedish intelligence.[11]

Säpo identified Russian intelligence and espionage activities as posing the largest intelligence threat to Sweden, and Russian activity has been increasing over the last couple of years.[12] Säpo is also actively working to counter influence operations targeting the Swedish elections through various means,[13] including educating political parties on ensuring their cybersecurity.[14]

The head of the Military Intelligence and Security Service (Must). Mj. Gen. Gunnar Karlson has stated that there was a clear intent to undermine Swedish democracy in cyberattacks that allegedly came from Russia and that included elements aimed at spreading disinformation in Sweden.[15]

Activities of the non-governmental sector


The Swedish Defence University focuses on military and war studies, including the concepts of ‘hybrid warfare’. In 2014, it held a symposium on Russia’s ‘hybrid war’ in Ukraine.[16] Among courses the university provides is Military Science (Krigsvetenskap), which focuses on the concept of ‘hybrid warfare’ (as of January 2017).[17]

The Utrikespolitiska institutet (UI), or the Swedish Institute for International Affairs, is a publicly-funded institute engaged in analysing and researching topics relevant to Swedish foreign policy. Its recent events include a ‘Gymnasium day’ lecture on disinformation (in Swedish).[18] Other important resources are its UI Brief publications on recent important events and trends in the EU and other areas. One of the first UI Briefs looked into international supporters of Putin’s regime and the reasons why some actors in the West become Putin’s advocates.[19] The institute has been involved in highlighting Russian disinformation against Sweden, identifying 26 fake news pieces emerging on suspicious websites, among which was a fake email that claimed to show talks between the Kingdom’s defence minister and BAE Systems Bofors.[20]

Among the UI’s prominent researchers are Martin Kragh, one of the authors of a study on Russian attempts to influence Sweden via fake news,[21] and Anke Schmidt-Felzmann, who publishes papers on EU-Russia relations, including a paper outlining a potential scenario of a full-scale Russian assault on Sweden.[22]

The Internet Foundation in Sweden (IIS) has published a guide on how to be more critical about online news.[23]

Stockholm Free World Forum is a think tank that publishes on issues relating to Baltic Sea security, threats to liberal democracy and global business. They have also organised conferences and events on Russian influence operations, information war and election meddling.[24]

In early 2018 it was announced that four leading Swedish news organisations would cooperate in creating a fact-checking initiative to dispel fake news leading up to the September election,[25] and recently the initiative faktiskt.se was launched.[26]


[1] Janda, J. et al (2017). “How Do European Democracies React to Russian Aggression?”. European Values. 22 April 2017.  http://www.europeanvalues.net/russia/     
[2] National Security Strategy (2017). State Council of Preparation, Sweden.  http://www.regeringen.se/48e36d/contentassets/a02552ad9de94efcb84154b0f6ed76f9/nationell-sakerhetsstrategi.pdf  
[3] “Swedish PM ‘Can’t Rule Out’ Russian Interference in Swedish Elections”. TheLocal.se. 9 January 2017.  https://www.thelocal.se/20170109/sweden-pm-cant-rule-out-russian-interference-in-swedish-elections    
[4] Regeringskansliet (2018) ‘Sveriges Säkerhet I en ny värld’ The Swedish government  http://www.regeringen.se/tal/2018/01/sveriges-sakerhet-i-en-ny-varld/ 
[5] See  https://www.msb.se/en/About-MSB/ 
[6] See  https://www.msb.se/sv/Insats--beredskap/Psykologiskt-forsvar/   
[7] “MSB ska skydda valet” SVT.se  https://www.svt.se/nyheter/inrikes/msb-ska-skydda-valet   
[8] Regeringskansliet (2018) ‘Sveriges Säkerhet I en ny värld’ The Swedish government  http://www.regeringen.se/tal/2018/01/sveriges-sakerhet-i-en-ny-varld/ ; ”Sweden to create new authority tasked with countering disinformation’ TheLocal.se,  https://www.thelocal.se/20180115/sweden-to-create-new-authority-tasked-with-countering-disinformation    
[9] Russian Military Capability Is Strengthened and Increasing”. FOI – Swedish Defence Research Agency. 12 August 2016.  https://www.foi.se/en/pressroom/news/news-archive/2016-12-08-russian-military-capability-is-strengthened-and-increasing.html   
[10] Franke, U. & Rosell, M. (2014). “Prospects for Detecting Deception on Twitter”. FOI – Swedish Defence Research Agency.  https://www.foi.se/download/18.3bca00611589ae798781f6/1480076524013/FOI-S--4908--SE.pdf 
[11] ”Russia Under Suspicion After Sabotage of Swedish Telecom Mast”. The Guardian. 18 May 2016.  https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/18/russia-under-suspicion-after-sabotage-of-swedish-telecom-mast    
[12] “Säkerhetsskyddet i fokus” Säkerhetspolisen  http://www.sakerhetspolisen.se/ovrigt/pressrum/aktuellt/aktuellt/2018-02-22-sakerhetsskyddet-i-fokus.html  
[13] “Brett arbete för att skydda valet” Säkerhetspolisen  http://www.sakerhetspolisen.se/ovrigt/pressrum/aktuellt/aktuellt/2018-02-22-brett-arbete-for-att-skydda-valet.html   
[14] “Säpo IT-Utbildar partier – för att undvika hackerattacker” SVT.se,  https://www.svt.se/nyheter/utrikes/sapo-it-utbildar-partier-for-att-undvika-hackarattacker 
[15] “Russia Biggest Source of Cyberattacks on Sweden: Intelligence Head”. TheLocal.se. 12 December 2016.  https://www.thelocal.se/20161212/russia-biggest-source-of-cyberattacks-on-sweden-intelligence-head     
[16] See  http://www.fhs.se/sv/medarbetarwebben/nyheter/allmanna/2014/symposium-moscows-hybrid-war-in-ukraine-/   
[17] See  http://www.fhs.se/sv/utbildning/uppdragsutbildningar/militara-uppdragsutbildningar/krigsvetenskap-hogre-operativ-chefskurs/   
[18] 314 See  https://www.ui.se/evenemang/tidigare/2017/februari/gymnasiedag-desinformation-och-digitala-spar/ 
[19] Simons, G. (2014). “Putin’s International Supporters”. Swedish Institute of International Affairs, UI Brief No. 3.   https://www.ui.se/globalassets/butiken/ui-brief/2014/putins-international-supporters.pdf     
[20] Henley, J. (2017). “Russia Waging Information War Against Sweden, Study Finds”. The Guardian. 11 January 2017.  https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/11/russia-waging-information-war-in-sweden-study-finds    
[21] “New Study: Russian Spread of Fake News in Sweden Is Increasing”. Dagens Nyheter. 7 January 2017.  http://www.dn.se/nyheter/sverige/ny-studie-rysk-spridning-av-falska-nyheter-i-sverige-okar/   
[22] Felzmann-Schmidt, A. (2016). “Sweden Under Attack! Lessons from Past Incidents for Coping with a Comprehensive Synchronized Attack on Critical Energy and Information Infrastructure”. NATO Science for Peace and Security Series, Vol. 46.  http://ebooks.iospress.nl/volumearticle/45361 ; see  https://www.ui.se/om-ui/personal/anke-schmidt-felzmann/   
[23]“Source Criticism on the Internet”. Internet Foundation in Sweden.  https://www.iis.se/lar-dig-mer/guider/kallkritik-pa-internet/ 
[24] https://frivarld.se/conferences/information-warfare-weaponization-democracy/; https://frivarld.se/video/   
[25] ”Medier startar samarbete mot falska nyheter” SVT.se  https://www.svt.se/kultur/medier/svenska-nyhetsmedier-startar-samarbete-for-faktagranskning-under-valet 
[26] https://www.faktiskt.se/om-oss/ 

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