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21 May, 2016 14:15

Really? 'Russia destroys Swedish TV mast ... over Eurovision loss'

Really? 'Russia destroys Swedish TV mast ... over Eurovision loss'

On May 15, a television mast in southwest Sweden came down in an apparent act of sabotage. It could have been pranksters. It could have been local extremists. But personally, I think it was Vladimir Putin getting revenge for Russia’s Eurovision loss.

Come on, you didn’t think he’d really let that slide, did you?

Think about it. Connect the dots. Sweden hosted the Eurovision final on Saturday. The mast came down on Sunday. It’s really the only logical explanation.

The Russian trail

Admittedly, the media hasn’t managed to connect the dots quite as skillfully as I have, but they’re not far off. They really are suggesting that Russia is responsible for the act of sabotage on this television mast — and for damage to another a couple of weeks ago.

It may be part of Russia’s “hybrid warfare” against Europe, according to Wilhelm Agrell professor of intelligence analysis at Lund University, quoted by The Guardian. The ‘Russian link’ was echoed by Hans Brun from the Swedish National Defence college, who guesses that there may be an “international link” and, well, the only other country that might possibly “be interested” in knocking down Swedish television masts is, of course, Russia. Brun did have the sense to admit that this analysis “isn’t based on research” and was just a “judgment”.

From official channels, the inclination to blame Russia hasn’t been quite as obvious. Minister for Home Affairs Anders Ygeman told Swedish radio that explanations for the incidents could range from “just pranks to a foreign power”. As of yet, the Civil Contingencies Agency has said it has no grounds to believe the incidents are related.

To put all these comments in context, the reader should be made aware that the ‘Russian trail’ can be found absolutely anywhere. There is nowhere it does not lead. If someone is stealing apples from your Granny’s garden, it’s probably the Russians. Remember that, and you’ll go far. Particularly if you want a career in journalism.

Pattern of hysteria

The reaction to the curious case of the damaged television masts matches a recent pattern of Russia-fearing hysteria in the Nordic states. Not long ago, a Norwegian TV channel aired a drama which depicted life after a Russian invasion. Before that came the case of the disappearing Russian submarines off the Swedish coast — one of which, it was later admitted, was actually just a work boat.

In 2014, there was predictable outrage when former Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt had the audacity to suggest that it was “to a certain extent understandable that Russia reacts to the concerns of a Russian minority in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, but not the way it has reacted”.

Among those irked by the comment was Agrell, the intelligence analyst quoted above who believes Russia may be responsible for sabotaging the telecom mast.

Then there was the time that Russia threatened Sweden with military action if it joined NATO — sort of. Russian ambassador to Sweden Viktor Tatarintsev last year told a Swedish newspaper there would be “consequences” if the country were to join the US-led military alliance. It may not have been the greatest word choice, but he clarified that the consequences would likely involve a possible reorientation of troops and missiles.

Now, I’m pretty sure if Canada joined some sort of Russian-led military bloc, the US might feel like reconsidering that relationship, too. But in the Russia-Sweden case, the ambassador was summoned and the media had a field day. The subsequent headlines made it sound as though Putin had threatened an immediate full-scale invasion if Sweden dared to join NATO.

As it stands, neither party in the Swedish government supports joining NATO, despite significant pressure from StratCom, the alliance’s center for strategic communications. This stance makes sense. The way things are going, staying out of NATO may well be the safest option for any country given the choice. Besides, it’s very difficult to imagine any circumstances under which Russia would simply attack Sweden in isolation. Cool heads have prevailed for now, but if that changes it’s not hard to envision the arguments that would be made in favor of joining the bloc. In the same way that anti-Brexit campaigners in the UK threaten that Putin would be “happy” if Britain abandoned the EU, pro-NATO campaigners would no doubt warn Swedes that unless they joined NATO, Putin was coming to get them.

Suspicion haunts the guilty mind?

Even with its non-aligned status, however, leaked documents suggest that Sweden may be preparing itself for eventual war with Russia. An internal brochure circulated by Swedish Army Chief Major General Anders Brannstrom warned earlier this year that the country needed to be prepared for war against a “qualified opponent”. Russia was not named, but no one is left wondering which country Brannstrom is referring to. The document goes as far as to suggest, that given global tensions, Sweden “could be at war within a few years”.

Considering the deep levels of paranoia being stoked in Europe today about possible Russian invasions and the necessity of preparing for war with the “resurgent” and “aggressive” country, it’s probably not surprising that Swedish analysts like Agrell and Brun are quick to point the finger at Russia over just about anything — even damaged telecom masts.

The closest thing to a Russian response came from the Russian Embassy in Sweden through a Facebook post, which mocked the media and analysts who had suggested Russia was behind the sabotage.

“We are convinced that any Swede with common sense would smile at the depiction of Russian agents ‘preparing for war’ by unscrewing bolts from a TV mast in a remote Swedish region,” the post read.

For their part, the Russian Foreign Ministry declined to respond to Reuters’ requests for comment. Not surprising, really. What would they say? “Yes, that was us!” or “No, we didn’t send someone to knock down your television mast, but we hope you catch whoever did!”

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.