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Kremlin-linked journalist organised Quran-burning at Turkish embassy in Stockholm

A far-right journalist with Kremlin connections staged a Koran-burning stunt that jeopardized Sweden’s bid to join NATO.

Chang Frik, formerly of Russia Today (RT) and sister agency Ruptly, paid an administration fee for a demonstration outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm, where Rasmus Paludan burned a holy book.

Mr. Frick’s Twitter feed contains photos of him posing in a Putin T-shirt and displaying a Putin calendar.

The involvement of the 39-year-old man in the incident raised fears that Russia may have planned the incident in an attempt to thwart NATO expansion.

After the burning of the Koran, Turkey immediately canceled a visit to Ankara by Swedish Defense Minister Pal Jannson and threatened to completely block the country’s accession to NATO.

“It is clear that those who committed such meanness in front of our embassy can no longer expect any charity from us regarding their application for NATO membership,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday.

Mr. Paludan, a Danish far-right politician who also holds Swedish citizenship, previously sparked riots in Sweden by announcing a “Quran-burning tour” during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

But he told the Swedish media that Frick, who runs the right-wing populist website Nyheter Idag and hosts a TV channel funded by the nationalist Swedish Democrats, paid for the stunt.

He said that Mr. Frick even promised to reimburse Paludan for any losses incurred as a result of the action.

In 2019, The New York Times featured Mr. Frick in a report on how the Kremlin maintains and amplifies divisions in Sweden.

Mr. Frick accused the New York Times of misrepresenting the facts on Twitter after the article was published, saying that RT was his client, not his employer.

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

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

Direction from Moscow

Analysts say Mr. Frick’s involvement in the Koran burning points to a possible direction from Moscow.

“The person who stands to gain the most from NATO not expanding east to the border with Russia is Putin,” said Paul Levin of the Institute for Turkic Studies at Stockholm University.

While there was not yet enough evidence to establish a causal link, Mr. Levin said it was “suspicious” nonetheless.

“There are some signs of a possible Russian active measure in this, but at the moment it is mostly speculation,” he told The Telegraph.

The Swedish newspaper Syre was the first to report Frick’s involvement in the protest against the burning of the Koran.

Mr Frick, who denies having worked for RT after 2014, told the paper he only paid for a permit to support free speech, claiming the protest was staged by a reporter from another right-wing outlet, Exakt 24.

But an Exakt 24 reporter insisted that Frick was the main organizer of the protest.

He denied attempting to sabotage the NATO bid, telling Swedish journalists: “If I sabotaged the bid by paying 320 crowns as an administrative fee to the police, it was probably on very shaky ground from the very beginning.”

NATO membership

Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO in May, ending decades of non-alignment in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

New members are admitted to NATO based on the consensus of existing members, which gives Turkey the right to veto their applications.

Erdogan has previously said he will only approve Sweden and Finland’s membership if they stop harboring exiled Turkish journalists and suspected supporters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is a terrorist organization in the US and EU.

The Swedish government has maintained that its strict free speech laws protect acts such as burning the Quran, but have also gone out of their way to limit the damage.

When an angry demonstration took place outside the Swedish consulate in Istanbul over the weekend protesting the act, staff affixed a sign to the window that read: “We don’t share the point of view of this book-burning idiot.”

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