Russia Moves Warship and Landing Craft in Baltic Sea, Would Gotland Invasion Repeat?

Swedish troops patrol in Gotland.

It happened before – in April of 1808 during the Finnish War the Russian army invaded the Swedish island of Gotland with 1,800 men. Three and a half weeks later, 2,000 Swedish marines landed and liberated Gotland, and the Russians withdrew.

However, the end result of the Finnish War, which lasted 1 1/2 years, meant that Sweden lost, in addition to other regions, Finland, which then became an autonomous grand duchy in the Russian Empire. As a matter of fact, the so-called Finnish War was actually a further Swedish-Russian War; to be even more precise, it had been the 11th such war since the Swedish-Novgorodian War, which occurred during the 12th and 13th centuries.

Augustin Ehrensvärd (1710-1772), Builder of Sveaborg/Suomenlinna fortress guarding the inlet to Helsinki

Flashback finished, fast forward 214 years: Swedish media is publishing images of tanks on the streets of Gotland’s main town of Visby, with an island population of just under 60,000 citizens.

Russia moves ships

“First and foremost it is worth acknowledging that the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century,” Putin said. “As for the Russian people, it became a genuine tragedy. Tens of millions of our fellow citizens and countrymen found themselves beyond the fringes of Russian territory.

Putin’s past remarks and present actions remind everyone that he still believes in Soviet Union and reunite parts of its territory by force.

At stake: Moscow’s decision to move three of its heavy landing ships from the Barents Sea in the Arctic Ocean to the Baltic Sea. Not shy for straightforward reporting, German tabloid Bild tried to sum up public sentiment in Sweden by announcing that according to an anonymous government official, Stockholm is on alert in case Russian President Vladimir Putin uses the three landing ships to invade Gotland. According to the official, should Putin plan anything against the Baltic countries, he would first have to take Gotland.

The islands in the Gotland chain have strategic importance not only to Sweden but to the whole Baltic region, located as they are just 300km from the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, which is home to Russia’s 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 Ropucha-class vessels, based in Kaliningrad, are designed for troops and vehicle landings, so manoeuvers in the Baltic Sea last week made the Swedes take notice.

Sweden and NATO

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

Lieutenant General Michael Claesson, Chief of Joint Operations at the Armed Forces, told Reuters that from Thursday troops were patrolling the harbour and airport of Visby, Gotland’s main town.

Sweden is not a NATO member but has close ties to the Atlantic alliance and has been beefing up its armed forces after decades of neglect amid increased anxiety over Russian sabre-rattling in the Baltic Sea region.

Claesson said the Gotland move was triggered by Russian landing ships entering the Baltic Sea this week and followed years of deteriorating security conditions, including in Sweden’s immediate geographic vicinity.

Sweden’s military said on Thursday (13 January) it was ramping up its visible activities on the Baltic Sea island of Gotland amid increased tensions between NATO and Russia and a recent deployment of Russian landing craft in the Baltic.

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