US ambassador to Sweden to step down

Current US ambassador to Sweden, Matthew Barzun, announced on Friday he is stepping down from his post to lead fundraising efforts for president Barack Obama's 2012 reelection campaign.

US ambassador to Sweden to step down

In making the announcement, published in a post on Barzun’s blog, the US ambassador said he was “honoured” to be asked to serve as chair of Obama’s National Finance Committee, but regretted the decision would cut short his time in Sweden.

“I am honored to be asked to serve in this new capacity, and am accepting the president’s call,” Barzun wrote.

“However, because of the nature of American presidential elections, it means I will have to leave this post all too soon — at the end of May.

When asked by The Local, the US Embassy provided this additional comment from ambassador Barzun.

“I am honored to be tasked with a new mission by the president. It will be a great challenge, but it’s one that begins for me on June 1st, not today. Until then, I remain ambassador to Sweden with my full attention devoted to this vital work.”

Barzun arrived in Stockholm in August 2009, having being named Obama’s top envoy in June after playing a vital fundraising role for the US president’s successful 2008 election campaign.

During his time serving on the National Finance Committee for the 2008 campaign, Barzun helped pioneer grassroots fundraising events which catered to small donors.

“The idea was, ‘Don’t just go after people who can write $2,000 checks, let them write checks for $25’,” he told The Local in a December 2009 interview .

According to statistics from the Center for Responsive Politics, an independent research organization that tracks money in politics, Barzun helped raisemore than $500,000 for the Obama campaign during the 2008 election cycle.

Part of the total raised by Barzun included more than $290,000 in overall contributions from Barzun and his family to various Democratic candidates, party organizations and political action committees (PACs).

The nearly $300,000 given by Barzun and his family put him as the sixth highest contributor to Obama’s campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

During his time in Stockholm, Barzun has worked to sustain cooperation between the United States and Sweden in promoting green technologies, establishing the Swedish American Green Alliance (SAGA) in February 2010.

“To meet our urgent climate challenge we must spread ideas faster, and the best vehicle ever devised for this is still story telling. We want to develop and share success stories around sustainability — and do so as quickly as possible — in order to carry our common SAGA forward,” Barzun said at the time.

In announcing his empending departure, Barzun again praised Sweden’s efforts to promote climate-friendly solutions and commitment to acting on the global stage.

“From Sweden’s leadership in sustainability and clean energy to its deep sense of international responsibility, as we have seen most recently in Libya, to the sense of balance embedded in the Swedish national character, I have soaked it all up and become forever enriched,” he wrote.

Born in New York, Barzun was raised in Massachusetts and graduated from Harvard before joining CNET in 1993, helping the company to capitalize on the internet’s rising popularity.

After a successful initial public offering in 1996, CNET was later purchased by US broadcasting giant CBS for $1.8 billion in 2008, by which time Barzun had risen to the position of executive vice president.

Barzun is married to Brooke Brown Barzun, a native of Lexington, Kentucky. The couple have three children.

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No island as important as Gotland, says US military chief

There is no island as strategically important as Gotland, a top US military chief has told Swedish media as his soldiers prepare to join Sweden's largest exercise in two decades.

No island as important as Gotland, says US military chief
United States Army Europe commander Ben Hodges on a visit to Lithuania. Photo: AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis

Sweden is leading the major military exercise Aurora 17 in September, with units from all over Sweden, at sea, land and air. More than 19,000 troops are set to take part, including 1,435 soldiers from the US, 270 from Finland, 120 from France and between 40-60 each from Denmark, Norway, Lithuania and Estonia.

It will focus on the Stockholm and Gothenburg regions and Gotland, the Baltic Sea island at the centre of military discussions in Sweden, where fear of an increasingly assertive Russia has grown in recent years.

“Aurora 17 is the first and biggest exercise of its kind in more than 20 years,” said Sweden's Armed Forces.

Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, the commanding general of the US Army forces in Europe, described Gotland as a key location on a visit to the island ahead of the exercise.

“I look forward to my soldiers being given the opportunity to train as much as they can with you,” newspaper Dagens Nyheter (DN) quoted him as telling Swedish troops permanently stationed on the island for the first time since 2005.

“You have a strategically very important task here. I do not think there is any island anywhere that is more important.”

READ ALSO: Why is Sweden re-militarizing idyllic holiday island Gotland?

Swedish troops on Gotland. Photo: Sören Andersson/TT

READ ALSO: Why Sweden is bringing back military conscription

Non-Nato member Sweden has strengthened its ties with the military alliance in recent years, despite Russia's words of warning that an expanding Nato would be seen as a “threat”.

Russia will hold a joint exercise, Zapad 2017, with Belarus around the same time as Aurora 17, seen by many Nato allies as an attempt to flex its muscles. The US has also stepped up its presence in eastern Europe with troops and tanks as part of a Nato military build-up that has drawn criticism from Moscow.

“Russia has changed the security environment,” Hodges told DN.

“We have to react to that, and not just the US, but the whole of Nato. The countries closest to the bear have historical experience. They feel the hot breath of the bear – and they are the ones most worried.”

“The fact that Sweden decided that they have to put troops back on Gotland is a very clear indication of what's going on. Sweden is known as moderate, credible and alliance free. Nevertheless Sweden felt that this was necessary.”

READ ALSO: Sweden in Nato would be a threat to Russia, says Vladimir Putin

Ben Hodges' comments in Dagens Nyheter were translated from Swedish to English by The Local. We understand his original comments were given in English, translated to Swedish by Dagens Nyheter.