Sweden revives Cold War military forces to help protect the Baltic from Putin’s Russia


When Sweden and Finland held military exercises off Gotland in March, four Russian warplanes briefly violated Swedish airspace east of the island.

Content of the article

(Bloomberg) – The highest ranking officer in the Swedish military has long been waiting to return to the windswept island of Gotland.

Advertisement 2

Content of the article

Karl Engelbrektson was a unit commander in Gotland in 2005 when Sweden withdrew its army from crucial perch in the central Baltic, taking advantage of post-Cold War peace. Even then, he thought the move was misjudged.

“Disbanding large parts of the armed forces, in the peaceful euphoria of the time, may have had meaning for many people,” Engelbrektson said, dressed in army fatigue next to a tank. German-made Stridsvagn 122, in an interview with Gotland Base at the end of March. “History proves that was a mistake.”

Gotland gives the Swedish military a commanding position in the Baltic from which to control critical naval routes and airspace, a strategic stronghold that seemed out of place before Russia invaded Ukraine. A wealthy Nordic nation that had grown accustomed to being away from war zones, Sweden – together with the region’s governments – is preparing for the possibility, until recently unthinkable, of conflict with Russia.

Advertisement 3

Content of the article

Sweden sits at the center of the Baltic Sea region, the northern flank of the European Union, where neighboring Finland shares a 1,300 kilometer (800 mile) border with Russia and the Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – had half a century of history under Soviet rule.

When Sweden and Finland held military exercises off Gotland in March, four Russian fighter jets briefly violated Swedish airspace east of the island – an incident the air force Swedish considered particularly serious given the context.

  1. Ukrainian artillerymen stand guard in the Luhansk region on March 2, 2022.

    Half of Swedes and Finns want to join NATO despite Putin’s threat of retaliation: Polls

  2. A bird brings a cigarette butt to a machine in exchange for food.

    Wild crows trade cigarette butts for peanuts to keep Swedish streets clean

Vladimir Putin’s invasion order – and Russian state TV pundits talking about a Baltic incursion – has sparked a scramble across the EU’s north to boost defense budgets, arm previously ousted servicemen and deliver arms to Ukraine. In Sweden and Finland, both of which have remained carefully non-aligned for more than four decades of the Cold War, a consensus is building to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Advertisement 4

Content of the article

Few places sum up the change like Gotland, where Sweden has stationed artillery and anti-aircraft units as well as an armored brigade of several thousand soldiers during the decades that Western Europe has faced the threat Soviet. In the 1960s, the nation could muster 800,000 troops out of a population of less than 8 million and spent 4% of its gross domestic product on defense.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, spending fell and Sweden embraced the new security balance. When Engelbrektson’s unit left in 2005, Putin was still making overtures to the United States and its allies and the people of Gotland faced only the onslaught of summer tourists seeking beaches in the Baltic and medieval walls of Visby, the county seat.

Advertisement 5

Content of the article

Although a permanent garrison returned in the years after Putin seized the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, the Swedish public was largely optimistic until recently.

Security experts noted that the Swedish island would be the linchpin of any Russian incursion into the Baltic states. Lt. Gen. Michael Claesson, head of joint operations for the Swedish army, said control of Gotland gives a nation effective control over the Baltic.

Any NATO response to a quick attack would be thwarted if Russian forces held the island, Claesson said. The island, Sweden’s largest, was hailed in Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s speech to parliament in Stockholm, which said all of Russia’s neighbors were at risk.

Advertising 6

Content of the article

“You can make it harder to defend NATO territory in the Baltics, as well as Sweden and Finland,” the officer said in an interview. “You must also consider that we are not part of any military alliance, and it may be tempting for Russia to challenge a country that does not have formal security guarantees.”

War jitters have set in on Gotland, even though Sweden has not ceded control of the island since 1808, when it was briefly occupied by Russian troops during the Finnish War, during which the Russian Empire used a third of the Kingdom of Sweden. — Finland today.

The mascot of the Swedish Army's Gotland Regiment, a ram called Harald Sixth, on the parade ground at their base near Visby, Sweden, Friday, March 25, 2022.
The mascot of the Swedish Army’s Gotland Regiment, a ram called Harald Sixth, on the parade ground at their base near Visby, Sweden, Friday, March 25, 2022. Photo by Mikael Sjoberg/Bloomberg

“We get questions every day about shelter, how much water and food you need to store at home, etc.,” said Rikard von Zweigbergk, head of preparedness and civil protection for the region. from Gotland, in an interview.

Advertising 7

Content of the article

Claesson gave the order to send reinforcements and armed personnel carriers to Gotland in January. The deliberate show of force prompted the Kremlin to blame Sweden for the escalating tensions in the region. The complaint, from Putin’s chief spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, gave Claesson a “sense of accomplishment”, he said.

Sweden’s martial action is at the heart of a political debate in the country, where officials are torn between caution over a delicate regional balance and a recent surge in public support for NATO membership.

Polls now show that a plurality of Swedes are in favor of joining the alliance. Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson – who faces elections in September – is not ruling out membership, although she said a bid in the current situation could threaten regional security. His government, which currently spends around 1.3% of GDP on defence, wants to raise that level to 2% of GDP – the NATO threshold – as soon as “practically possible”.

Advertising 8

Content of the article

“The war in Europe will affect the Swedish people,” Andersson said earlier in March. “Russia now threatens the entire European security order, on which European countries, including Sweden, base their security.”

Sweden, best known for its high standard of living and lack of corruption, is no stranger to guns. A major arms exporter, it has supplied everything from artillery shells to fighter jets to armies around the world. The NLAW shoulder anti-tank weapon, originally developed by Sweden’s Saab AB, is one of the most important pieces of equipment for the Ukrainian forces fighting the Russian army.

Engelbrektson, the army chief, told Gotland that Sweden’s financial commitment and industrial capacity put it in a good position.

“We are lucky to be able to invest money in a problem and get results,” he said.

©2022 Bloomberg LP



Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively yet civil discussion forum and encourages all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments can take up to an hour to be moderated before appearing on the site. We ask that you keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications. You will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, if there is an update to a comment thread you follow, or if a user follows you comments. See our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.


Comments are closed.