Sweden sends troops to Gotland as Russia steps up Baltic Sea activity

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Sweden has sent hundreds of troops to reinforce a crucial Baltic Sea island as its defense minister warned the Scandinavian country should not be naïve and could come under attack.

A Swedish Armed Forces emergency response unit landed in Gotland on Friday and Saturday by plane and ferry, bringing troops and equipment to an island many have compared to an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Baltic Sea.

The deployment comes amid growing concern in the Nordic and Baltic countries about Russia’s intentions on its border with Ukraine and how this could spill over to neighboring countries. Swedish media noted an increase in Russian naval activity in the Baltic Sea over the weekend as troops were sent to Gotland.

“It is clear that there is a risk. An attack against Sweden cannot be ruled out. . . It is important to show that we are not naive. Sweden will not be caught doing the nap if something happens. It is important to send signals that we are taking this situation seriously,” Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist told Ekot radio station on Saturday.

Russia’s deployment of more than 100,000 troops to the Ukrainian border and its harsh diplomatic rhetoric has led Sweden and Finland, both militarily unaligned, to stress that they retain the option of applying for NATO membership. .

A majority in the Swedish parliament supports joining the military alliance, but the ruling centre-left Social Democrats are not and without their support Sweden is unlikely to join.

Experts said Sweden, which had no permanent military presence in Gotland from 2005 to 2016 because it cut defense spending after the Cold War, was forced to act so visibly because of the relative weakness of its armed forces.

It took similar action in August 2020 by sending armored vehicles alongside holidaymakers’ motorhomes on the ferry to the popular tourist island as Russia held a number of military exercises in the area.

Sweden has dramatically increased its defense spending in recent years after a series of embarrassments including the inability to jam jets as Russia faked an attack on Stockholm over the Easter weekend, and the unsuccessful search for a suspected Russian submarine in the archipelago outside Sweden. Capital city.

The three NATO-member Baltic states had long urged Sweden to take Gotland’s security more seriously, and Swedish forces – along with a large contingent of US troops – staged their biggest exercise in decades in 2017, including an attack on Gotland. , which an American general called an “unsinkable aircraft carrier”.

Even when the extra troops arrived over the weekend, Gotland’s defense chiefs tried to soothe the nerves of local residents. “I sleep pretty well at night, and the risk of armed conflict is low,” said Mattias Ardin, chief of the Gotland regiment.

Swedish media reported that a large unidentified drone flew over Stockholm on Saturday, including the royal palace. It came after police reported on Friday that unidentified drones were flying over at least one and possibly as many as four nuclear power plants. Police, who informed the Swedish Armed Forces, said they considered the possibly related events to be “extremely serious”.

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