Russian military activities: Sweden discusses relations with NATO

From: 17/01/2022 19:57

Sweden has also reacted to the Russian military activities: tanks are now being deployed on the island of Gotland, and soldiers are patrolling. The debate on joining NATO is more intense than it has been in a long time.

By Sofie Donges, ARD Studio Stockholm

60,000 people live on the Swedish island of Gotland. It is centrally located in the Baltic Sea, less than 200 km as the crow flies from the Latvian coast and thus also close to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.

Sophie Donges

For days, tanks have been rolling through the streets, and soldiers are patrolling the harbor. “The security situation has been deteriorating for a long time,” Matthias Ardin, who leads the regiment on Gotland, told Swedish television SVT. “There is more military activity in Europe, and therefore the Swedish Armed Forces decided to reinforce here on Gotland.”

The island is considered strategically important due to its central location in the Baltic Sea. According to security experts, the entire region could be controlled from here. The Ukraine conflict could therefore also become a security threat for Sweden. That is why the debate on NATO membership is currently more intense than it has been for years.

NATO issues divide the camps

Since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the Swedish military and NATO have worked more closely together, for example on joint exercise missions. That the Kremlin now demands that NATO waive the accession of countries like Ukraine is unacceptable, the Swedish Minister of Defense Peter Hultqvist told TV4 with reference to his own country:

We ourselves decide on security policy solutions, who we practice with, whether we want to be a NATO partner or how we create our armed forces. That is not the case for Russia or anyone else.

Most parties in Sweden will probably agree. However, the NATO issue divides the camps. While the Social Democratic minority government, the Greens and the Left are against immediate accession, the bourgeois parties support membership or at least a NATO option, ie a theoretical option for accession. Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson announced a further deepening of the partnership.

Debate also in Finland

The debate in neighboring Finland is similar: with a border with Russia that is more than 1,300 km long, Finland is in a vulnerable position. Unlike Sweden, the Finns have long been considered pragmatists in dealing with Moscow. At the same time, for many years, there has been an opportunity for accession established in political programs.

However, security expert Charly Salonius-Pasternak from the Finnish Institute of International Affairs sees no added value to Finland’s NATO relationship with Sweden. On Swedish radio he said:

There may be a rhetorical difference. The Finnish Prime Minister can tell the Russian President that, depending on Russia’s behavior, Finland must join NATO. On the other hand, the Swedish government can do the same because Sweden is a sovereign, independent country. ”

Opponents and supporters are now equal

Neither in Finland nor in Sweden is there currently a majority in the population for accession. However, the Swedish newspaper “Dagens Nyheter” recently published the results of its annual poll on membership of the military alliance: Supporters and opponents are now more or less evenly distributed. A few years ago, critics were clearly in the majority. The long tradition of freedom of alliance seems to be losing significance for some Swedes.

Discussion on NATO contributions in Sweden and Finland

Sofie Donges, ARD Stockholm, 18.1.2022 06:41

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