This briefing contains Trump/Russia/Brexit headlines for you to go an seek out (that’s how we fight fake news, by finding out for ourselves) and a bitesize recap to help you catch up with the complex long reads of the #snowman investigation into the links between Russia, Trump, the far right, and Brexit.
Go and Search
Vladimir Putin has warned North Korea against further missile tests.
Russian Leader blames US for cyber attacks, says originator would have suffered unintended damage too.
NATO is meeting to discuss the threat of Russian destabilisation efforts.
A Democrat senator has officially called for Trump’s impeachment.
Trump is reported to be considering a shakeup of his team after firing James Comey.
JP Morgan is set to relocate 1000 staff to Dublin.
The UK jobs market will see increasing unemployment as a result of Brexit.
Almost half of European businesses have started looking to replace British suppliers.
In a mirror of right-wing part policy across Europe, the Sweden Democrats reject any notions of joining the Economic and Monetary Union of the EU, are opposed to the accession of Turkey, and want to renegotiate Swedish membership in the European Union.
Gustaf Ekström, a Waffen-SS veteran, was the first auditor of the party and Anders Klarström, once a member of the Nordiska rikspartiet (“Nordic Reich Party”), was an early chair. From the outset, the party sought alliances with the National Democratic Party of Germany and the American National Association for the Advancement of White People – founded by David Duke, Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. The early leadership also sought links with publications such as the Nazi Nation Europa and Nouvelle École, the latter being a newspaper which advocates racial biology.
Within this background is a key to the global network of purported national parties. The SD have long term links with the extreme right but have shifted – trying to escape this image – and found themselves aligning with the newer, more acceptable face of this politik – what is now known as the ‘alt-right’.
Right-wing sites Info Wars and Breitbart have been posting articles with a supporting lean towards the Sweden Democrats since 2015 at least, on a cursory search alone.
The link is easy to miss unless you are looking for it specifically.
Breitbart was founded by a right-wing journalist who died in 2012 and, though it retains his surname, was headed up by Steve Bannon (chief advisor to President Donald Trump), who was funded directly by billionaire republican donor Robert Mercer. With the original mission being to “take back the culture”, Breitbart launched careers of a host of controversial ‘alt-right’ figures and came to London in 2014 – with Bannon saying the coming election (and subsequent referendum) were a key focus in their “current cultural and political war.”
While some of the back links are more obvious – for example, Duke and the SD have a long history and Bannon’s appointment in the Trump cabinet was hailed a success by Duke – these are only small components of a broader, more complex picture. And this also goes well beyond the established links between the Sweden Democrats and their EU parliamentary associations with Nigel Farage’s UKIP and Marine Le Pen’s Front National.
The Sweden Democrats do have direct links to Russia and this has raised a significant concern over security within the Riksdag.
A Russian-born political secretary for the party resigned in September 2016 after making several million kronor in a suspect property deal with a St Petersburg businessman.
While a property scandal may seem a regular or low-level occurrence in politics, the case was unusual as the Defence Minister, Peter Hultqvist, made a quick public statement that “several people with a high level of competence have declared a potential security risk, therefore, I think that one should take the situation seriously.”
Clarifying the threat and indicating Russia had acquired a ‘hold’ over Putilov by way of the transaction, Lars Nicander, Director for the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies at Sweden’s National Defence College, said: “You can hear intimate conversations, you can hear the different parties’ positions on the Nord Stream [gas pipeline], for example, or on NATO and trade agreements. You can even install listening devices.”
In August 2016, while debate was underway as to whether Sweden should enter a military partnership with NATO, Swedish social media was flooded with fake news from alternative outlets. The claims included warnings of stockpiling nuclear weapons on Swedish soil, NATO using Sweden to launch attacks on Russia, and sinister claims that NATO soldiers would rape Swedish women without fear of prosecution. Hultqvist faced harsh questioning across the country about the false stories, which also started to trickle into the mainstream media.
By March 2017, the Swedish defence ministry had announced the country was reinstating the military draft and 4,000 men and women would be called up for service beginning in January 2018. “The security environment in Europe and in Sweden’s vicinity has deteriorated and the all-volunteer recruitment hasn’t provided the Armed Forces with enough trained personnel,” a spokesperson said at the time, adding “the re-activating of the conscription is needed for military readiness.”
Shortly after the reintroduction of military service, Sweden’s Prime Minister, Stefan Löfven, set out measures designed to prevent foreign countries interfering in the 2018 Swedish general election and Anders Norlén, chair of the Riksdag constitutional committee, told Radio Sweden parties should avoid relying on Russian propaganda or other support. “Every party in the Swedish parliament has a responsibility to make sure that the facts they use and the arguments they use are sound and valid and not just a way of repeating propaganda from, for instance, Russia,” he said.
In June 2016, the European Council on Foreign Relations, chaired by Carl Bildt the former Swedish PM, carried out the first comprehensive survey of so-called ‘insurgent’ parties in Europe and found that “despite their differences, a majority of them are positively inclined towards Putin’s Russia and pursue policies that promote Russia’s interests in Europe.”
The council went on to say “parties are useful for Moscow in that they help legitimise the Kremlin’s policies and amplify Russian disinformation. At times they can also shift Europe’s domestic debates in Russia’s favour. Voting patterns in the European Parliament show that on issues such as Ukraine, the human rights situation in Russia, and association agreements with Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, the Dutch PVV leads the pack in pro-Russian votes. UKIP, the Sweden Democrats, Italy’s Northern League, and France’s Front National come in a shared second place.”
While the report noted the obvious policy leanings, it was circumspect in saying “it is less clear to what extent there is collusion,” though it made clear “the notion that Russia might be funding agents of influence by providing financing to sympathetic parties in Europe has become more salient as relations between Russia and the West have deteriorated.” This was published a long time before the extent of the Trump/Russia inquiry began to unravel in the US.