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Media: Russia planned interference campaigns to disrupt NATO accession of Finland, Sweden

by Nate Ostiller December 4, 2023 6:24 PM 2 min read
People burn Sweden's flag during a demonstration in Lahore, Pakistan on July 9, 2023, as they protest against the burning of the Koran outside a Stockholm mosque that outraged Muslims around the world. Leaked Russian intelligence documents obtained by Finnish media show that Russia sought to exploit the protests as a means of disrupting Sweden's accession to NATO. (Arif Ali/AFP via Getty Images)
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Russian intelligence services planned a series of disruptive activities to try to prevent, or at least hinder, Sweden and Finland's accession to NATO, the Finnish media outlet YLE reported on Dec. 4, citing leaked Russian intelligence documents.

The documents were initially obtained by the independent Russian anti-corruption project Dossier Center, YLE said.

The planned activities, which YLE said did not appear to have actually taken place in Finland, sought to increase discord between Turkey and other NATO countries, especially Sweden, as the two Nordic countries began the process of joining the alliance.

Russia allegedly tried to inflame tensions that erupted after a series of public burnings of the Quran in Sweden in early 2023, which resulted in protests breaking out around the Muslim world.

The Quran burnings also caused a diplomatic dispute between Sweden and Turkey, complicating the process of Sweden's accession to NATO.

The Swedish government accused Russia of spreading disinformation about the incidents, saying that it had sponsored the publication of articles in Arabic that claimed that the Swedish government was in favor of the Quran burnings.

Both Sweden and Finland applied to join the alliance in May 2022 following Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Turkey initially blocked both bids but gave the green light to Finland's accession in March. A unanimous vote of all members, including Turkey, is required for a new member to be admitted.

The leaked documents also included plans to mock Turkey and its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, including promoting anti-Turkish protests and spreading anti-Erdogan graffiti around Europe.

Although Erdogan signed a long-awaited protocol on Sweden's NATO accession on Oct. 23, its final approval has been delayed by the Turkish parliament.

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