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Moscow’s Info War in Sweden

Last week brought the news of a most alarming discovery off the Swedish coast: a sunken Russian submarine. Given the Swedish Navy’s unsuccessful hunt for a suspected Russian submarine last fall, it was perhaps inevitable that the discovery—made by a private diving company and first reported by the tabloid Expressen—should generate massive international headlines.

The Swedish Navy soon declared that the vessel was an imperial Russian submarine that had sunk off the Swedish coast in 1916, but by that time, Russian media had a field day with the discovery. “Sweden finally gets their Russian sub (but it’s 100 years old) [sic],” declared Sputnik. “Ghosts of Russian submarines continue to haunt Sweden,” reported RT.

Here’s the curious thing: the company behind the search, Ocean X Team, told Expressen that it simply happened upon the wreck, and its two divers even suggested that it may be a 1980s submarine. But one of the Ocean X Team drivers (and co-managers of the company) later told Swedish Radio he received the wreck’s coordinates, and indeed the task of finding the sub, from iXplorer, an Iceland-based company run by Russian diver Alexey “Max” Mikhaylov. As the extremely well-informed Swedish blogger and Navy captain Niklas Wiklund discovered, Mikhaylov is a former diver in the Soviet Red Fleet and the son of a Soviet Navy officer.

The Russian connection, and Russian media’s immediate ridicule of Sweden’s navy, may be a complete coincidence. But for the past couple of years, Russian media have relentlessly reported on the perceived ineptitude of Sweden’s armed forces, conveying the message to the international and Swedish public—Sputnik, a government-run news agency launched last year, now has a Swedish channel as well—that the Swedish armed forces can’t even be trusted with such simple tasks as identifying intruders. While the propaganda may seem heavy-handed, it’s a crucial tool in Russia’s information warfare against Sweden, especially as Swedes are warming to the idea of joining NATO. A May opinion poll showed that support for NATO membership now outweighs opposition to it, a crucial step for long-neutral Sweden.

Following the sub discovery, Sputnik made a NATO connection as well—suggesting that the Swedish armed forces had invented the mysterious sub as a way of pushing for more funding and Swedish NATO membership. Sputnik quoted Global Research, a Canadian research outfit that often offers a pro-Russian perspective. Here’s another curious coincidence: in at least one case, that of analyst Andrew Korybko, Sputnik uses the same writers as Global Research. In May, Korybko reported that “Shadow NATO states Sweden and Finland started initiating highly publicized ‘Russian sub’ scares, designed with the sole intent of scaring their publics into formal NATO membership and opening up an additional front in the New Cold War.”

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