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  • Denmark’s free and competent press is perhaps one of the most important foundations of national defence against foreign subversion.
  • The arrival of subversive warfare on the agenda in the past three years, and the rise in controversial hacking attacks, likely perpetrated by Russia or pro-Russian hackers, make cyber-security and anti-subversion measures an important aspect of the kingdom’s government policy.

Relations with the Russian Federation

Principled defender. Held concerned views of Russian foreign policy and now is at the forefront of the European response to its aggression.[1]

Relations between Russia and Denmark have been relatively cool ever since Putin’s rise to power, spoiled either by the war in Chechnya, human rights concerns, or Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Today, Denmark remains a firm supporter of the international sanctions against Russia after its aggressive action in Ukraine. As of this year, a number of Nordic countries including Denmark have addressed the threat of Russian disinformation and have taken measures to counter this assault. Nevertheless, Denmark is not an important direct target for Russia, and although disinformation is being addressed extensively in Denmark, it is primarily within the general threat of Russian influence campaigns against the West, rather than to Denmark specifically. Moreover, Denmark – as well as the Baltic countries, Sweden, and Finland – faces potential military threats from Russia if escalation occurs.[2]

The country’s geopolitical location with the Baltic Sea might become especially strategic if Russian aggression continues.

Political acknowledgement of the threat

The Danish Royal Defence College (Forsvarsakademiet) mentioned “hybrid threats” the country faces in its 2017 report on cyber-security[3], and briefly in the 2016 report.[4] In April 2017, Minister of Defence Claus Hjort Frederiksen spoke about a “continuing war from the Russian side“ in the field of cyber-attacks, which were, according to him, “connected to the intelligence agencies or key elements of the Russian government.“[5]

Swedish Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist and Minister Claus Hjort Frederisksen agreed on boosting defence cooperation against ‘dangerous’ fake news campaigns and cyber-attacks (both which create uncertainty in each country). When speaking about the justification behind increasing their defence ties against Russian cyber-attacks, both ministers claimed that when countries “cannot clearly distinguish false news and disinformation from what is true, we become increasingly unsafe… We have both been exposed to forms [of this] and want to better defend our societies in this area.”[6]

This nordic cooperation stretches back to 2015, when Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, and the UK produced a paper which called for: 1) Raised EU awareness of the dangers of disinformation, including proper cooperation with NATO on strategic communications; 2) Increased honesty regarding deconstructing propaganda and clearer objectives when EU countries communicate in the “eastern neighborhood”; 3) Providing credible alternatives for audiences relying on Russia’s state-controlled media; and 4) Greater attention toward the violation of broadcasting rules and better cooperation between EU media regulators.[7]

Government activities against Russian influence & disinformation

The Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a seconded-national expert in the EEAS East Stratcom team in Brussels to further counter Russian disinformation operations.[8]

In its latest Foreign and Security Policy Strategy from 2017, Denmark acknowledges the Russian threat and voices concerns about Russian actions in the Baltic Sea Region. The document also specifies concerns about the threat of Russian influence campaigns, and vows to direct attention to the issue as well as developing stronger resillience against Russian influence campaigns. The strategy also calls for an inter-agency approach to building resillience.[9]

In 2017, this was actualised by the creation of an inter-ministerial task force to counter influence operations, including disinformation, by the Danish government.[10] When the establishment of the task force was announced, Denmark’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Anders Samuelsen, made the following comment: "Our Western democratic processes and media have become more fragile vis-a-vis fake news, disinformation campaigns and other unconventional methods. We have seen, for example, Russia's attempt to influence democratic elections in the United States and France. We need to take it seriously. And Denmark is not immune to these kinds of threats. This is why we strengthen our efforts from the Danish side, like several of our partners have also done, so that we are better prepared to resist attempts to interfere in our democracy."[11] Denmark is also currently working on a new national strategy for cyber- and information security. [12] 

In the Danish Parliament, efforts to counter Russian influence campaigns and cyber threats have gained solid support from left, centre and right, with the exception of one MP, Marie Krarup, who stands alone in expressing support of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.[13] She criticises Denmark’s firm stance on the threat from Russia[14] and demands that Denmark discontinue its support of EU’s East Stratcom Task Force.[15] As Berlingske daily pointed out, the MP is, not surprisingly, the most quoted Danish politician in Russian media, with more references than even the country’s Prime Minister.[16]

Before deployment in January 2018 of the 200 Danish soldiers to Estonia as part of NATO’s  Enhanced Forward Presence, training for combating pro-Kremlin disinformation became a “top priority”, according to the EU vs Disinformation Campaign website.[17] Quoting Denmark’s Defence Minister, Claus Hjorth Frederiksen: “We used to see a kind of propaganda where the aim was to create a positive view of the Soviet Union or Russia’s actions. Now, it has been turned around so that the aim is to create distrust among ourselves.”[18] This came partly as a reaction to the false report of a 15-year-old girl being raped by German NATO soldiers, which ended with NATO accusing Russia of producing the false report and causing distrust within the organization.[19]

Additionally, the Institute for Strategy (IFS) of the Royal Danish Defence College has also shown a particular interest in analyzing strategic implications in developments in Russia, China, as well as the Middle East, not least due to Russia’s recent activities in the region.[20]

The approach of intelligence agencies to Russian interference

Denmark has had the Centre for Cyber-security operating since 2012 under the Danish Defence Intelligence Service, and among more recent initiatives is the Computer Network Operations capacity, which is tasked with both defensive and offensive operations against hostile cyber-infrastructure.[21] The Danish Defence Intelligence Service has assessed Russia as one of the states most heavily invested in hacking in its 2017 intelligence risk assessment, mentioning the cyber area (including cyber threats from Russia) first, followed by Russia as a general threat (military threats and hybrid threats, including disinformation) and terrorism as the third area.[22] According to the assessment’s main conclusions, “Russia conducts influence campaigns in order to improve its ability to influence public opinion in Western countries in directions favourable to Russia’s strategic interest. Consequently, Russia will continue to pose a significant security challenge to the West, including Denmark".[23]

Moreover, in 2015 Denmark became active in building up the Kingdom’s offensive capacity in cyber-space[24], showing a very high level of importance cyber-security has in the country’s national defence capacity. This is not without a good reason, since Denmark’s Defence Ministry has fallen victim to Russian hacking attacks in 2015 and 2016, resulting in hackers gaining access to the ministry’s employees’ e-mails and non-classified documents[25], which may lead to employees’ personal data being used against them by criminals.[26] The story about the e-mail hack came months after Danish Defence Minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen warned that Russia is prepared to engage in a cyber-offensive against the kingdom.[27]

Activities of the non-governmental sector

The Danish non-governmental sector has been very active in engaging with the topic of disinformation, hybrid threats, and fake news, and several research institutes have addressed the topic.

The Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS) has been involved in analysing the issue of foreign subversion and disinformation.[28] The Institute’s senior researcher, Flemming Splidsboel Hansen, is one of the institute’s most notable experts on issues surrounding Russia and the former Soviet Union, and is an author of several articles on Russia. In a 2016 Hansen analysed the question of Russo-Western relations in the light of ontological issues of Russian self-identity vis-à-vis the West, which (according to Hansen) fuels the threat Russia poses to the West.[29] In 2017, the Institute also published a report titled “Russian Hybrid Warfare: A Study in Disinformation”, authored by Hansen.[30]

Danish newspapers have written extensively on Russian fake news in the West. In his blog at Berlingske Business’ website, Sten Lock raised the issue of how the debate in Western democracies is being diluted by disagreement on what facts to accept, recommending an English-language website called for those wishing to ensure they are familiar with true facts and not fake “facts”.[31] Djofbladet’s Regner Hansen wrote how fake news is hitting European states in the midst of electoral periods. [32] In Denmark several fact-checking initiatives have also been debunking various fake and false news. Among these is “Tjekdet,” an initiative by MandgMorgen that aims to not simply debunk fake stories, but also at bringing nuance and complexity into the political debate.[33] The Danish TV program “Detektor” by the Danish Broadcasting Corporation have been broadcasting since 2011, with a similar agenda, aiming to check facts and investigate the factual basis of claims within the Danish political discourse.[34] A recent publication on the issue of fake news is former Foreign Minister Uffe Ellemann’s blog post on, where he provides an example of his friend being deceived by fake media spreading a myth that 3500 U.S. tanks were deployed at Russia’s borders.[35] The online magazine has written an article outlining how Russian disinformation spreads in Denmark, and the role certain local sources, like 24NYT, play as disseminators of disinformation.[36]

Senior Researcher at the Centre for Military Studies at the University of Copenhagen Dr. Gary Schaub Jr., who is responsible for conducting research-based consultancy work for the Danish Ministry of Defence, claims that Russian media sources have been having some difficulty reaching the Danish public. Although some of these Russian media sources are primarily targeting an internal Russian audience rather than a Danish audience. Dr. Schaub nevertheless states that this difficulty is due to a “Scandinavian culture of shaping consensus” and “societal resilience” which make outreach difficult for outlets like Sputnik and RT. Sputnik News started in Denmark in April 2015 but closed again in March 2016, showing that the audience for these alternative news sources are small.[37] When they do attempt to gain the attention of Danes, it is with reports showing bravado. One example is the article in a Danish newspaper from the Russian Ambassador to Denmark, who in 2015 stated that Denmark would become the target of Russian nuclear weapons if it were to participate in NATO’s Ballistic Missile Defence program.[38]

[1] “How do European democracies react to Russian aggression”. European Values. 22 April 2017. Available at: 
[2] Ibid.
[8] “How do European democracies react to Russian aggression”. European Values. 22 April 2017. Available at:  
[11] Ibid.
[18] Ibid.
[23] Ibid, p. 9

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