By Georgi Gotev
(EurActiv) — Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson warned his compatriots on Wednesday (11 January) against falling prey to Moscow’s propaganda, after Russian media spread the fake news that his country was planning to allow NATO to deploy nuclear weapons on its soil in peacetime.
Kristersson delivered the message while briefing a group of more than 60 Brussels-based journalists who came to Sweden on a press trip to mark the start of the six-month-long Swedish Presidency of the EU Council.
Kristersson, who took office last October, leads the conservative Moderate Party, affiliated with the European People’s Party. Despite being in a difficult coalition which includes the populist, right-wing Sweden Democrats, he said he was pursuing a pro-European course.
Kristersson told the Folk, an annual national defence conference, on Sunday that placing nuclear weapons on Swedish soil in peacetime was not on the table.
But several Russian media wrongly reported that he had said the opposite, meaning Stockholm would allow nuclear weapons in peacetime.
As a high-level participant from Sweden who asked not to be named told EURACTIV, the Russian media reports had been amplified via social media, even by “very decent citizens”.
Kristersson said that his message to “fellow Swedes is to be very cautious and avoid spreading fake information on social media”.
Sweden’s left has historically been opposed to joining NATO. But as the war in Ukraine made joining the alliance popular, Sweden’s Social Democrats changed tack, alienating many of their supporters and exposing deep divisions among the Left in the process.
As the high-level speaker explained, without neighbouring Finland’s stronger push to join NATO, the change of tack in Sweden would have been impossible.
It is therefore likely that Russia aims at eroding the support for the NATO accession of the two Scandinavian countries at a time when both Turkey and Hungary are still withholding ratifications of their membership bids.
Asked about Tukey’s obstructions, Kristersson denied previous reports that he had said that Turkey was asking “too much” from Sweden in exchange for the ratification.
Contacts with Türkiye, he said, using the name Ankara is promoting for international use, were going “very well”.
“We are showing Türkiye we are doing exactly what we said we will do”, he said, admitting however that Ankara “sometimes names people” they wanted to be extradited.
“The Swedish legislation is very clear – only courts can decide,” the prime minister said.
Asked about the war in Ukraine and the Swedish support, Kristerssonr said he had spoken two days earlier with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and had confirmed that “we want to do more”.
Asked concretely about the type of military equipment to be delivered, he declined to reveal such details but added that the supplies were being “coordinated with partners”.
Sweden’s minister for European affairs, Jessika Roswall, also answered questions from the press. Asked if the delayed ratification of Sweden’s NATO bid was some type of blackmail, given that Hungary is under an Article 7 procedure and risks losing considerable EU funds, she strongly argued that the two processes went “in parallel”.
Contacts with Budapest are progressing, she said, and the Swedish Presidency hopes to see “the effect” of this progress.
Asked how the Swedish presidency was going to deal with its uncomfortable governing partner, the Sweden Democrats, she said that until now, issues concerning the EU agenda were decided in the EU affairs committee of the Swedish parliament.
A Swedish source explained that, so far, the Sweden Democrats had no choice but to accept their defeat in parliament.
The source gave as an example the vote on the Schengen enlargement in the Swedish parliament, which the far-right party strongly opposed. The vote was successful in the parliamentary committee despite the Sweden Democrats’ opposition, and Sweden eventually voted in favour at the EU level, without destabilising the government.
“We are learning by doing”, the high-level interlocutor said of the new Swedish cabinet’s work.