Sweden won’t demand Russia fly-by explanation

Sweden won't demand Russia fly-by explanation
The revelation that Nato stepped in instead of the Swedish military during a Russian fly-by at Easter has left Swedish political commentators seething, while the defence minister has admitted a shift in Russia's military behaviour.

“It is exceptionally serious that Swedish preparedness does not work,” Social Democrat MP Peter Hultqvist, who heads the parliamentary committee on defence, told the TT news agency.

Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) on Monday broke the story that Russian jets took part in an exercise less than 40 kilometres from the Swedish territorial border on Good Friday. Sweden is meant to have two Jas Gripen planes ready to identify foreign aircraft, but they were not deployed when the incident occurred.

Instead, two Nato planes from Lithuania took off to shadow the Russian aircraft.

The incident has reignited the debate about whether Sweden’s military is fit to defend the country.

“We should be prepared any day of the year,” parliamentary defence committee chairman Hultqvist told TT. He said he would demand a review into the matter.

“To do a bombing exercise against Swedish targets reminds me of the Cold War. This confirms our image that Russia means business when it comes to raising its military capacity.”

On Monday afternoon, SvD’s defence correspondent Mikael Holmström, who broke the story, chatted with readers on the newspaper’s site.

“I think the Russians wanted to train and demonstrate to the world that ‘they’re back’ at a higher military level than we’ve seen since the nineties,” he wrote.

He said it was difficult to ascertain how often such fly-bys occurred, as the information is classified, but said neighbouring Norway had also faced several such incidents in the past years.

“This is kept secret in Sweden. During the Cold War and during the eighties there was more openness about such incidents,” Holmström wrote.

The defence minister, meanwhile, said the latest incident confirmed her view that Russia was beefing up.

“We see that they have stepped up their training exercises and that they act in a different way,” Karin Enström told TT. “This is of course something we are keeping a close eye on.”

“Sweden’s Armed Forces should be prepared but the exact details of how they are prepared is something that we don’t comment on in public. The Armed Forces make the judgment call in individual cases,” said Enström.

The Swedish Liberal Party (Folkpartiet) has historically shown the least animosity towards Sweden joining Nato. Its foreign policy spokesman Allan Widman on Monday said the party took the Good Friday incident very seriously.

“But this is also about us intensifying our cooperation with other countries when it comes to our safety, and in that vein I’m primarily thinking of how we become closer to Nato,” Widman told TT.

The Swedish foreign minister, Carl Bildt, did not think the lack of a Swedish response was alarming.

“We don’t react to everything, we’re not up in the air for everything and we shouldn’t be,” Bildt told TT. He does not plan to ask the Russian government for an explanation.

TT/The Local/at

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