The Moscow-link to Koran-burning stunt that could stop Sweden joining NATO

The Moscow-link to Koran-burning stunt that could stop Sweden joining NATO

A far-right journalist with links to the Kremlin has been accused of being behind a Koran-burning stunt that has infuriated Turkey and threatened Sweden’s attempt to join NATO.

Chang Frick, who previously worked for RT (formerly Russia Today) and sister agency Ruptly, paid the administrative fee for the demonstration outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm where far-right MP Rasmus Paludan torched the holy book.

Controversial Danish far-right MP Rasmus Paludan, also a Swedish citizen, burns the Koran outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm last weekend.Credit:Getty

The involvement of the 39-year-old has raised fears that Russia may have plotted the incident to disrupt the expansion of NATO. Frick’s Twitter feed includes pictures of him posing in a Putin T-shirt and showing off a Putin calendar.

An effigy of the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was strung from a lamppost a week earlier. Turkey also wants Sweden to extradite people it says are militants from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

After the Koran-burning stunt, Turkey immediately cancelled a visit to Ankara by Swedish Defence Minister Pal Jannson and threatened to block its NATO accession.

Paludan, is Danish far-right politician who also holds Swedish citizenship, has previously sparked riots in Sweden by announcing a “Koran-burning tour” during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. He has burnt the book in Denmark and been found guilty of racism there three times receiving suspended or one-month jail sentences.

A woman holds up a cross next two Muslim girls while Rasmus Paludan burns the Koran outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm.Credit:Getty

But he told Swedish media that Frick, who runs the right-wing populist site Nyheter Idag and hosts a show on a TV station funded by the nationalist Sweden Democrats party, paid for this stunt. He said Frick even promised to cover any damages Paludan incurred as a result of the action.

In 2019, The New York Times profiled Frick in a report on how the Kremlin was befriending and amplifying divisive voices in Sweden. Frick accused The New York Times of misrepresentation on Twitter after the article was published, saying RT was his client but not his employer.

Frick, who was in a relationship with a Russian woman at the time, told the newspaper he had been invited to observe Russian elections and meet Vladimir Putin.

Rasmus Palunda’s stunt sparked counter-protests in other countries. Here people recite from the Koran outside the Swedish embassy in Ankara, Turkey.Credit:AP

While denying he worked for Russia, he jokingly pulled out a wad of rubles from a trip to the country and said: “Here is my real boss! This is Putin”.

Analysts said Frick’s involvement in the Koran-burning suggested possible direction from Moscow.

“The person who most stands to benefit from NATO not expanding eastward towards Russia’s border is Putin,” said Paul Levin of the Institute for Turkish Studies at Stockholm University.

While there was not yet enough evidence to establish causality, Levin said it was nonetheless “suspicious”.

“It does have some of the flavours of a possible Russian active measure,” he told London Daily Telegraph. Swedish newspaper Syre was the first to report Frick’s association with the Koran-burning protest.

Frick, who denies working for RT after 2014, told the paper he only paid for the permit to support free speech, claiming the protest had been organised by a reporter from Exakt 24, another right-wing publication. But the reporter for Exakt 24 was insistent that Frick was the main organiser.

He denied attempting to sabotage the NATO application, posting denials to social media and telling Swedish journalists: “If I, by paying 320 kroner in an administrative fee to the police, sabotaged the application, it was probably on very shaky ground from the beginning”.

Sweden and Finland filed applications for NATO membership in May.

New members are admitted to NATO by the consensus of existing members, giving Turkey a veto.

The Telegraph, London

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