Sweden has deployed armored combat vehicles and hundred of armed troops to patrol streets on the island of Gotland in response to increased “Russian activity” in the region, the country’s military said.
In a statement late on Thursday (Jan 13), the military said troops would be deployed “to reinforce operations in multiple locations” due to “increased Russian activity in the Baltic Sea”.
The deployment comes amid rising jitters in Nordic and Baltic countries about Russia’s intentions on its border with Ukraine, and how that could spill over to neighboring countries. Swedish media noted at the weekend increased Russian naval activity in the Baltic Sea as troops were sent to Gotland.
“It is clear there is a risk. An attack against Sweden cannot be ruled out. It’s important to show we are not naive. Sweden will not be caught napping if something happens. It is important to send signals that we take this situation seriously,” defense minister Peter Hultqvist told radio station Ekot 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 non-aligned, to stress that they retained the option to apply for NATO membership.
A majority in Sweden’s parliament is in favor of membership of the military alliance, but the ruling center-left Social Democrats are not and without their support Sweden is unlikely to join.
Increased defense budget
Experts said that Sweden, which had no permanent military presence on Gotland from 2005 until 2016 as it decreased defense spending after the cold war, was forced to act so visibly owing to the relative weakness of its armed forces.
It took similar action in August 2020 sending over armored vehicles alongside holidaymakers’ campervans on the ferry to the popular tourist island as Russia held a number of military exercises in the region.
Sweden has increased its defense spending significantly in recent years after a series of embarrassments including not being able to scramble jets as Russia simulated an attack on Stockholm as it was the Easter weekend, and searching unsuccessfully for a suspected Russian submarine in the archipelago outside the Swedish capital.
The three Baltic countries, which are members of NATO, had long urged Sweden to take the security of Gotland more seriously, and Swedish forces – together with a large contingent of US troops – held their biggest exercise for decades in 2017 including an attack on Gotland, which one US general called “an unsinkable aircraft carrier”.
Even as the extra troops arrived at the weekend, defense chiefs on Gotland tried to sooth the nerves of local residents. “I sleep rather well at night, and the risk of armed conflict is low,” said Mattias Ardin, head of the Gotland regiment.
Swedish police also reported on Friday unidentified drones flying over at least one and possibly as many as four nuclear power plants. Police, who informed Sweden’s armed forces, said they viewed the possibly connected events as “extremely serious”.
Both Swedish and American C-130 Hercules aircraft demonstrated the ability to land on roads in a remote location on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea Oct. 23.
A U.S. MC-130J Commando II Special Operations aircraft carried a Wisconsin Army National Guard M142 HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) long-range artillery system on board. The HIMARS was promptly unloaded and assembled for firing, then loaded onto the Swedish C-130H (designated as a TP 84 in the Swedish Air Force) and flown to another location in the northern part of the country, escorted by Swedish air force JAS 39 Gripen fighters, for a live firing event. The launch was successful.
According to the Swedish armed forces, “Within a few minutes, the system was assembled and ready to launch. It was then loaded on board the aircraft again and transported up to northern Sweden to demonstrate live firing. It was the first time this feature was fully exercised.”
“During the ongoing special forces exercise, new capabilities and weapon systems have been tested to enhance the joint operational capability in the vicinity of Sweden,” said a statement from the Swedish Ministry of Defense.
“Everything went very well. The joint exercises conducted this past weekend demonstrate how far we’ve come in our cooperation with the U.S.,” said Swedish Army Lt. Gen. Michael Claesson, Sweden’s chief of joint operations.
Gotland is Sweden’s largest island, and one of tens of thousands of islands strategically located in the Baltic Sea. Sweden is a neutral and independent country, and not a member of NATO treaty. It does, however, follow NATO military procedures and frequently participates in NATO and U.S. bilateral exercises.
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