Did a Pro-Putin Journalist Just Blow Up Sweden’s Chances of Joining NATO?

Swedish national Chang Frick, who has worked for Russian state TV, paid a demonstration fee for a protest that saw far-right activists anger Turkey by burning a Quran in Stockholm.

A Swedish journalist with links to Russian state television paid for a demonstration in Stockholm by far-right activists, who burnt a Quran in front of the Turkish embassy and set off a diplomatic controversy that has stymied Sweden’s attempt to join NATO. 

The protest has further threatened Sweden’s NATO membership, and sparked fears that the Kremlin may have planned the event to stop the bloc’s expansion, which it claims is an existential threat to Russia. 


Turkey has demanded Sweden deport Turkish opposition figures living in the country in exchange for its approval in joining NATO. Sweden says this is legally impossible. Finland and Sweden applied to join the alliance last year after Russia invaded Ukraine. 

Journalist Chang Frick, who has worked for RT and other Russian state-owned media organisations, admitted he paid the 320 Swedish krona (£25, $31, €29) demonstration fee for the event on Tuesday. Danish far-right activist Rasmus Paludan burnt a Quran at the event, angering both the Turkish government and social media accounts linked to ISIS. 

Frick has shared pictures of Putin memorabilia on Twitter and posed in t-shirts printed with the Russian president’s face. Moscow denies any involvement. 

Paludan told Swedish journalists that Frick had not only paid for the event but had specifically suggested burning a copy of Islam’s holy book. Frick neither confirmed nor denied the claim.

Frick admitted his role to Swedish journalists but denied that the “free speech” event was designed to hurt Sweden’s relationship with Turkey and complicate its NATO application. 

“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,” he told Swedish media. 

Frick also hosts news events for Sweden’s nationalist, right-wing Social Democratic Party, which denied any involvement in the event.  


“It can be hard to determine if someone is working with Russia because they’re a troll or if Russia itself is directing the troll,” said a NATO security official on background. “It could be [Frick] is just some far right creep who likes burning Qurans. Or it could be a Russian intelligence operation. But either way, it’s helping Russia to see NATO members in conflict.”

Turkey has insisted that Sweden must extradite as many as 100 political opponents of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as part of its NATO application. NATO allies say the demand is impossible to meet but as any NATO member can veto the application of an aspiring country, the issue remains volatile and Turkey continues to block Sweden’s application.

“Erdogan loves this shit,” said the official. “He’s got an election [planned for May] and can energise his supporters, put pressure on Sweden over NATO, and play the role of protector of Islam or whatever.”

After the demonstration in Stockholm, Turkey cancelled a planned meeting about NATO between defence ministers and Erdogan said that the demonstration made it unlikely that Turkey would support Sweden’s application. The US appears ready to pressure Turkey into accepting Sweden in exchange for allowing the Turks to buy US made F-16 fighter jets, but all sides remain far apart.

The burning of the Quran also drew criticism and vows of bloody-minded revenge from ISIS social media channels, which vowed revenge and warned that Muslims who do not confront Sweden would themselves be targeted by the group.