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The Swedish expert with the strange Russian connections

Summary:
CHARGES of Russian interference in European politics tend to be shrouded in mystery. Take the case of Egor Putilov (pictured), also known as Alexander Fridback, Tobias Lagerfeldt and Aleksandr Yarovenko. On June 8th 2016, Sveriges Radio, the Swedish public radio station, interviewed Mr Putilov, who identified himself as a former employee of the national migration agency. He stated that asylum-seekers as old as 40 were claiming to be children, and that the agency was letting them in. In a country divided over refugee policy, the allegation seemed explosive.Two hours later, Sveriges Radio deleted the interview. Mr Putilov was an unreliable source: he had taken a journalism course at the broadcaster some months earlier, and had been reported to the police for failing to return his temporary

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CHARGES of Russian interference in European politics tend to be shrouded in mystery. Take the case of Egor Putilov (pictured), also known as Alexander Fridback, Tobias Lagerfeldt and Aleksandr Yarovenko. On June 8th 2016, Sveriges Radio, the Swedish public radio station, interviewed Mr Putilov, who identified himself as a former employee of the national migration agency. He stated that asylum-seekers as old as 40 were claiming to be children, and that the agency was letting them in. In a country divided over refugee policy, the allegation seemed explosive.

Two hours later, Sveriges Radio deleted the interview. Mr Putilov was an unreliable source: he had taken a journalism course at the broadcaster some months earlier, and had been reported to the police for failing to return his temporary press card. Then in August, Aftonbladet, a daily, reported that someone calling himself Egor Putilov had used the pen name Tobias Lagerfeldt to write an opinion piece that it had published, calling for a more open refugee policy. Moreover, it found, the so-called Mr Putilov was in fact Alexander Fridback, an employee of the ultra-nationalist Sweden Democrats party.

This is where things get really confusing. Mr Fridback immigrated to Sweden from Russia in 2007, apparently under the name Aleksandr Yarovenko. In 2011 he changed his family name to Fridback, supposedly because Swedes found Yarovenko hard to pronounce. He opened a travel business, mainly for Russian clients, and began blogging in Russian (under the name Egor Putilov) about trips to far-flung lands such as Mali and Syria. He was reportedly arrested in Syria in early 2012. On his return, he began writing freelance articles for the Swedish press and took a job for nine months as a clerk at the immigration agency, the basis of his later claim to know how it treats refugees (though he said he had worked there for three years).

In 2015 Mr Fridback wrote an opinion piece in Aftonbladet alleging that Islamic State could use the migrant crisis to infiltrate Sweden. Within hours, his article was picked up by Sputnik, the Russian state-controlled news agency. Later that year he offered his services (as Egor Putilov) to Sweden’s internal-security agency, which was starting a department to combat influence operations by IS and Russia. Most damningly, Sveriges Radio discovered that in 2014 Mr Fridback had bought a house in Sweden at a below-market price from a Russian criminal who was, at the time, in prison in Russia. Two months later he sold the house at a profit of about $700,000.

No one was sure what it all meant, and Mr Fridback denies any shady connections or wrongdoing. But because of his exposure to Russia, security experts termed Mr Fridback a security risk, the government demanded explanations, and he ultimately left his job with the Sweden Democrats. It remains unclear whether he was an independent flim-flam artist or an agent acting on behalf of Russia—or a bit of both.

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