The Swedish authorities have alleged that Russia was trying to disrupt their North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato) membership process by spreading false information about the desecration of the Quran, The Guardian reported.
The Russian state-controlled media outlets RT and Sputnik had published a series of articles in Arabic which falsely claimed that Sweden supported Quran burning, said Sweden’s psychological defence agency, which is part of the defence ministry.
The Nordic country was still Turkiye and Hungary’s nod for their entry to the alliance which is a political and military alliance of 31 countries.
The agency alleged that they logged about a million similar posts in Arabic and other languages.
Several incidents related to the desecration of the Quran have been reported in Sweden and Denmark in the past few months, prompting protests in Muslim countries and widespread condemnation from the world.
With concerns from Muslim states, the Swedish government was under pressure to prevent such protests. They have also expressed their intention to amend the protest law.
Disinformation online had increased exponentially since the incidents of Quran desecration, Mikael Östlund, a spokesperson for the psychological defence agency, said. Among those spreading the false narratives were states and extremists, he added.
“They repeat narratives that Sweden supports the burning of the Qur’an and that Sweden is an Islamophobic country and hostile against Islam,” he said. “We’re not very surprised because Russia is using narratives that make Sweden look bad and make it harder to join Nato.”
He added: “RT and Sputnik – those channels have had several posts with those narratives since June and July in Arabic. So obviously they want to make themselves heard among Arabic-speaking people.”
As they were state-run channels, it indicated that the strategy was coming from the top, he said. “Everything is approved by the Kremlin so it comes from the government of Russia. The narrative is in line with what the Kremlin want them to do.”
Swedish PM Ulf Kristersson accused outsiders of using the country as “a stage for spreading hateful messages”.
He feared that such acts were leading the country into international conflicts. He said this after the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation condemned the protests.
Valentyna Shapovalova, a PhD fellow at the University of Copenhagen who studies Russian propaganda and disinformation, said the Quran burnings in Sweden were “difficult to avoid” across Russian media, where they were reported on almost daily.
“Russia is definitely trying to use the Qur’an burning in its propaganda narrative, which is built around the idea that, in general, the West and Western values are corrupt and the West is in decay,” she said. “In some media stories, Qur’an burnings have been used as evidence of a liberal Western world that’s gone too far.”