Swedish Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist and his Norwegian, Danish and Finnish colleagues, and Iceland's foreign minister, signed an opinion piece in Oslo-based newspaper Aftenposten on Friday, outlining an intention to cooperate on defence issues. The new strategy includes joint military exercises and should be seen as “a direct response to aggressive Russian behaviour” in the areas around the Nordic countries.
According to Norwegian defence analyst Janne Haaland Matlary, the declaration takes the cooperation strategy as far as it can go without explicitly creating a Nato community with non Nato-members Sweden and Finland, but adds that it could be a step further to full membership.
“Finland and Sweden have also decided to keep their exercises to 'Nato standard', which implies a step on the way towards Nato. Today, there are no political grounds for them to join Nato, public opinion is not frightened enough, and referenda will be required. But what is happening now still looks like a preparation for membership,” she told Aftenposten on Friday.
The new cooperation strategy will include more joint exercises, joint processing of cyber material, joint exchange of intelligence information and joint industrial cooperation, including the defence sector.
According to Peter Hultqvist and his Nordic colleagues the five countries will share information about what goes on in their airspace and at sea, to decrease the risk of “surprises”, referring to incidents in the past year involving Russian aircraft in or around Swedish airspace.
"The Russian aggression against Ukraine and the illegal annexation of Crimea are violations of international law and other international agreements. Russia’s conduct represents the gravest challenge to European security. As a consequence, the security situation in the Nordic countries’ adjacent areas has become significantly worsened during the past year…. we must be prepared to face possible crises or incidents," write the ministers.
“The Russian military acts in a provocative manner along our borders and there have been several border violations around the Baltic countries. Russian propaganda and political manoeuvring contributes to sowing discord between the countries and inside organizations such as Nato and the European Union."
But Haaland Matlary warned that Russia would perceive the message as aggressive.
“You have to count on negative reactions from the Russian side,” she told Aftenposten.
Just a few weeks ago, the Swedish security police, Säpo, listed Russia as the biggest security threat to Sweden. While their report was based on top secret intelligence, it followed numerous public examples of a growing Russian military presence in the Baltic Sea.
In September 2014, two SU-24 fighter bombers allegedly entered Swedish airspace in what the former Foreign Minister Carl Bildt called “the most serious aerial incursion by the Russians” in almost a decade.
The following month a foreign submarine was spotted in Swedish waters, although the Swedish military was unable to determine where it came from. In March 2015 a second 'secret' submarine hunt was also reported.
“I think that there is a new security situation in the Baltic area and in the Baltic Sea,” Hultqvist told The Local on the day the first sighting was confirmed.