DAGENS NYHETER – Worldcrunch
Gotland is Sweden’s largest island, home to some 57,000 people and a popular tourist destination during Swedish short summers for its many beaches and hiking trails. During the Cold War, the island also served as a key military base in Sweden’s defense against the Soviet threat, which loomed just 80 miles east along the Latvian coast.
Today, more than 27 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the soldiers are returning to Gotland.
Russia’s expansionist rhetoric and the growing number of military maneuvers have prompted Sweden to increase its defense spending by 10.2 billion crowns ($ 1.18 billion) for the period 2016-2020. And part of the strengthening of the defense will be the relocation of soldiers to Gotland.
Finland, which itself has been suspicious of Moscow since the crisis in Ukraine, constitutes a buffer zone between Sweden and Russia to the north. But the Baltic Sea is an open crossroads to Sweden, which makes the island crucial in the face of any possible threat from the east. The new Gotland Battle Group will initially be 300 men, a far cry from the 20,000 troops stationed there at the height of the Cold War, but it’s all part of “showing a raised threshold.” Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist told the Stockholm daily Dagens Nyheter.
City of Visby, Gotland – Photo: Jumilla
In its 2015 annual report, NATO says Russia has conducted at least 18 full-scale instantaneous exercises over the past three years, some of which have involved more than 100,000 troops – levels not seen since the height of the war. cold.
“What we can see is that there are more exercises, more military activity in the Baltic Sea,” Hultqvist said. “We can also see more proactive activities, flying close to our planes. “
The 2015 NATO report claims that one of those exercises was a simulated nuclear strike against Sweden in war games less than three years ago.
The Russian threat has also revived the debate on Sweden’s NATO membership. Opinion polls conducted last year showed that nearly half of all Swedes were in favor of or joining NATO, a sharp increase since 2012, when less than one in five supported the idea.
Also written in Dagens Nyheter, Jean-Pierre Olov Schori, Swedish diplomat and former international secretary of the Swedish Social Democratic Party, noted that NATO membership would risk changing the country’s nuclear policy. “Sweden has pursued a coherent anti-nuclear policy since 1960,” he said. “This policy, which has given Sweden massive support and credibility for many years at the UN, would not be possible if Sweden became a member of NATO.” ??
Indeed, despite the reluctance that accompanies a newly emboldened Moscow, Sweden is a country which has not fought a war since 1814 and which prides itself on a tradition of neutrality and non-alliance. Major changes, such as joining NATO, will not be done lightly. Michael Byden, Supreme Commander of the Swedish Armed Forces, stresses the need to better analyze and understand the situation as the most urgent need.
“Did we understand, before this happened, the annexation of Crimea? Byden asked in a recent interview with the BBC. “Did we understand that they were about to launch something in eastern Ukraine? This is one of the big challenges of the moment: what are they doing and why are they doing it?