Friday, May 27

As Russia flexes its muscles in the Baltic, Sweden prepares for the worst


On the premises of a farm on Gotland, a Swedish rapid reaction force of 150 military personnel is setting up shop on the largest island in the Baltic Sea.

Hastily deployed from northern Sweden, the troops and their equipment arrived by C-17 transport plane and ferry over the weekend in response to Russia’s naval strikes in the region and the deployment of 100,000 troops to its border. with Ukraine.

Officially, the move is called a “contingency adjustment,” and senior Swedish military officials stress that the deployment does not pose a greater threat to Sweden’s territory from Moscow, although Sweden’s defense minister recently said an attack could not be ruled out. .

The islands of the Gotland chain are of strategic importance not only for Sweden but for the entire Baltic region, as they are located only 300 km from the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, which is home to the Russian Baltic Fleet.

In recent weeks, Moscow has increased the number of Landing Ship Tank (LST) vessels operating in the region from four to six. The Kaliningrad-based Ropucha-class ships are designed for landing troops and vehicles, and maneuvers in the Baltic Sea last week brought the Swedes to notice.

“These won’t do any kind of D-Day operation, but they could muster enough forces to create a real headache, or take a limited piece of land, like an island,” said Robin Häggblom, a Finnish military blogger and naval expert. .

Russia has also deployed a newer and larger type of LST from the Northern Fleet to the Baltic Sea. The Ivan Gren-class Pyotr Morgunov can carry a dozen main battle tanks, 40 amphibious armored personnel carriers, 300 soldiers, and a contingent of attack helicopters.

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Häggblom said that these additional offensive capabilities mean that Russia’s military presence in the Baltic has reached critical mass. “Things could get serious,” he said.

Russian landing ships have since left the Baltic Sea, but additional troops remain on Gotland for the time being.

The Baltic Sea situation is an early test for the new prime minister

The situation has been an early test for Sweden’s new prime minister, Magdalena Andersson, who was only appointed in November.

Andersson has already had to refute Russian claims that NATO should limit expansion plans, and while Sweden and neighboring Finland are closely aligned militarily with NATO, neither country is a full member of the 30-nation bloc. .

“All states have the right to freely choose their own security arrangements,” Andersson said in early January after speaking with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö; and after a call with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

The next day, he tweeted that Sweden would deepen its partnership with NATO.

‘Hybrid tactics’

Although public opinion in Sweden is more favorable to joining NATO than in Finland, there is still not a majority in the most recent polls in either country to join.

Andersson has also reached out across political lines, inviting leaders of all parliamentary parties to this week’s talks on the current security situation.

“I think the Swedish authorities, and the armed forces in particular, want to make it clear that Sweden will resist any hybrid tactics and prepare for a worsening security situation,” said Björn Fägersten of the Swedish Institute of International Affairs.

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“I think there is even more reason to communicate that we do not accept Russia’s vision of a future European security order based on spheres of influence where we would lose our agency.”

There has been timely international support for the Swedes and the Finns too, with British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace visiting both countries in January to meet top leaders, issuing a statement this week saying it was “clear the Kremlin intends to dictating what sovereign states may or may not choose had been rejected across the political spectrum.”

Britain, Sweden and Finland are part of a 10-nation military alliance called the Joint Expeditionary Force made up of northern European countries that can act together or as part of a NATO operation.

“We stand in solidarity with those who share our values: including our NATO allies and partners” such as Sweden and Finland, Wallace said in his statement.

US President Joe Biden also offered his support in a phone call to his Finnish counterpart on Tuesday afternoon.

“In the long conversation, the presidents discussed the European security situation, the serious tensions on Ukraine’s borders and the possibilities of finding solutions,” Niinistö’s office said in a press release.

Fägersten said that if Russia’s ideas of establishing a new military order gained traction, where countries were not free to choose whether or not to join NATO, then “Sweden’s current security strategy, to train and cooperate with partners inside and outside Europe, it would be very negatively affected”.

“But it will be difficult to give up the position that Russia has taken. Clearly, the Swedish armed forces want to prepare for whatever comes next,” he added.

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mysterious drone sightings

To further complicate the current security situation in Sweden, there have been a number of sightings of ‘military-style drones’ around sensitive areas, which are being taken seriously enough that the country’s security service is leading the investigation. .

Drones were seen on Friday near a nuclear power plant south of Gothenburg and near the Oskarshamn power plant in the southeast of the country; while on Monday there was another drone sighting near the Forsmark nuclear power plant, north of Stockholm.

Swedish police have appealed for more information, and local media reports have cataloged other suspected drone sightings near two northern airports; and close to parliament, government buildings and a royal palace in the capital.

The drones have been described in the media as “military-grade” machines with large wings, and the Swedish Security Service Sapo says they are coordinating closely with the police and military as part of their investigation into possible airspace violations around the drones. nuclear plants. but it would not be based on any details so far.

“We are leading an investigation into reported drones in the vicinity of Swedish nuclear plants. That is our stake,” Sapo spokesman Fredrik Hultgren told Euronews.

“Other reported drones are a regular police matter.”

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