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

Chang Frick, who paid the admin fee for Turkish embassy protest in Stockholm, wearing a Putin T-shirt - Magnus Bergström
Chang Frick, who paid the admin fee for Turkish embassy protest in Stockholm, wearing a Putin T-shirt - Magnus Bergström

A far-Right journalist with links to the Kremlin organised the Quran-burning stunt that has threatened Sweden’s attempt to join Nato.

Chang Frick, who has previously worked for Russia Today (RT) and sister agency Ruptly, paid the administrative fee for the demonstration outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm where Rasmus Paludan torched the holy book.

Mr Frick’s Twitter feed includes pictures of him posing in a Putin t-shirt and showing off a Putin calendar.

The involvement of the 39-year-old in the incident has raised fears that Russia may have plotted the incident in an attempt to disrupt the expansion of Nato.

Following the Quran-burning, Turkey immediately cancelled a visit to Ankara by Pal Jannson, Sweden’s defence minister and threatened to block the country’s Nato accession altogether.

“It is clear that those who allowed such vileness to take place in front of our embassy can no longer expect any charity from us regarding their Nato membership application,”  Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, said on Monday.

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

But he told Swedish media that Mr Frick, who runs the right-wing populist site Nyheter Idag and hosts a show on a TV station funded by the nationalist Sweden Democrats party, paid for this stunt.

He said Mr Frick even promised to cover any damages Paludan incurred as a result of the action.

In 2019, the New York Times profiled Mr Frick in a report on how the Kremlin was befriending and amplifying divisive voices in Sweden.

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

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

While denying he worked for Russia, he jokingly pulled out a wad of rubles from a trip to the country and said “here is my real boss! This is Putin”.

Direction from Moscow

Analysts said Mr Frick’s involvement in the Quran-burning suggested possible direction from Moscow.

“The person who most stands to benefit from Nato not expanding eastward towards Russia’s border is Putin,” said Paul Levin of the Institute for Turkish Studies at Stockholm University.

While there was not yet enough evidence to establish causality Mr Levin said it was nonetheless “suspicious”.

“It does have some of the flavours of a possible Russian active measure, but it is at this point mainly speculation,” he told The Telegraph.

Swedish newspaper Syre was the first to report Mr Frick’s association with the Quran-burning protest.

Mr Frick, who denies working for RT after 2014, told the paper that he only paid for the permit to support free speech, claiming that the protest had been organised by a reporter from Exakt 24, another right-wing publication.

But the reporter for Exakt 24 was insistent that Mr Frick was the main organiser of the protest.

He denied attempting to sabotage the Nato application, telling Swedish journalists: “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.”

Nato membership

Sweden and Finland filed applications for Nato membership in May, ending decades of  non-alignment in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

New members are admitted to Nato by the consensus of existing members, giving Turkey an effective veto over their applications.

Mr Erdogan has previously said he would only approve Sweden and Finland's membership if they stopped harbouring exiled Turkish journalists and suspected supporters of the Kurdistan Workers Party, which is listed as a terrorist organisation in the US and EU.

The Swedish government argued its stringent free speech laws protect such actions as Quran-burning, but has also scrambled to limit the damage.

As an angry demonstration railed against the act outside the Swedish Consulate in Istanbul over the weekend, staff taped a sign in a window reading: “We do not share that book-burning idiot’s view.”