- By Robbie GramerRobbie Gramer is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. He writes for The Cable, FP’s real-time take on all things, well, foreign policy. Before he joined FP in 2016, he used to think in a tank, managing the NATO portfolio at the Atlantic Council for three years. He’s a graduate of American University’s School of International Service, where he studied international relations and European affairs. He has lived in both Washington and Brussels, though he grew up in Idaho and Oregon, so he’s a West Coaster at heart. When he’s not busy reporting, he’s probably busy starting three new books before he has finished the last one or planning a trip to a national park he hasn’t visited yet.
The Stockholm suburb of Rinkeby was thrust into the global spotlight after President Donald Trump leveled unsubstantiated claims that Sweden is roiled by rising crime and nonexistent terrorist attacks. Days after Trump made his claims, the suburb did in fact experience a riot, sparking media furor over whether Western countries were jeopardizing their own safety by taking immigrants and refugees from Middle East and North African countries. Since then, international media outlets, particularly far-right outlets like Breitbart, flocked to the place, looking for grist for Trump’s claims — and sometimes coming up short.
Coming up short apparently wasn’t an option for one Russian TV crew, who decided to bypass deontology and just make up the news themselves.
“They came up to us and said they wanted to see some action. They wanted to bribe us 400 [krona] each,” Mohammed, a Rinkeby resident, told Danish radio station Radio24syv. (400 krona is about $45.)
But when Swedish police approached the camera crew and group of youngsters, the Russian journalists suddenly changed their tune. “While we were talking to them, the police came over to us. We did not want to do any of that. But when the police came the Russian journalists said that we were the ones who had said that we would show them some action for 400 [krona] each,” said the boy.
The Russian TV crew didn’t identify their outlet. But it falls in line with a wider pattern of Russian state-funded media portraying Europe as falling apart due to immigration. Sweden has been at the receiving end of the Kremlin’s subversive media-turned-foreign policy tool before, particularly as it deepens its relationship with NATO, Russia’s former Cold War adversary.
Russian-funded outlets such as RT, Sputnik, and NTV furnish a steady flow of misleading information that European governments struggle to rebut. It also became a major issue in the U.S. elections, as political leaders on both the right and left accused Russian-funded or partisan outlets of wielding “fake news” as a blunt political instrument.
Radio24syv reporter Tinne Hjersing Knudsen spoke to TheLocal.se about the bizarre episode she covered while reporting from Rinkeby. “I asked the youths what they thought about the media coverage and they said it had been bad from every media from every country,” she said. She added two individual boys she spoke to told the same story about the Russian TV crew.
Meanwhile, Trump’s ill-informed Sweden comments have strained relations with Stockholm, even after the administration walked back his statements. That didn’t mollify former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt.
“I regret that President Trump is slandering our country in his attempts to find reasons for what he wants to do in closing off the United States,” Bildt wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Post on Feb. 24. “If it were not for the massive turmoil that could ensue, I would urge him to skip one of his golfing weekends and come to us and see for himself,” he wrote.
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