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'Sweden will see Russia as a threat again'

Oliver Gee · 22 Oct 2014, 12:52

Published: 22 Oct 2014 12:52 GMT+02:00

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Ever since Sweden's Armed Forces launched a massive submarine hunt in the Stockholm archipelago last week, the world has had its binoculars on Sweden. 
The military operation marks the country's largest domestic push since the Cold War, but Rear Admiral Anders Grenstad said on Sunday that this wasn't even the first observation of its kind in recent years. 
So why is everyone going crazy about this one? 
Malena Britz, an assistant professor at the Swedish National Defence College, says there are several factors at play this time around.
"I think the reason the Armed Forces are actually mentioning this incident at all is because of the increased tensions between Sweden and Russia," she tells The Local. 

The sub hunt has run into day six. Photo: TT
She says that after the Cold War, which saw a slew of underwater activity near Sweden, there probably was "enough activity for the Swedish Armed Forces to notice, but not enough to do anything about". 
"When the Cold War ended, Russia was weak, at least militarily. But over the last 18 months or so there have been increased tensions between Russia and Sweden and we've seen Russian aircraft flying into Swedish airspace on a more or less regular basis."
In October Swedish intelligence officials released a picture showing a Russian jet flying closely beside a Swedish intelligence plane. They told The Local at the time that it marked an aggressive strain of Russian behaviour that was becoming a trend. The month before, two Russian jets flew over the Swedish island of Öland for 30 seconds.
The Russian Jet. Photo: Sweden's National Defence Radio Establishment
"At first, Sweden didn't really react - but as the Ukraine crisis continued there was a tense situation in the Baltic Sea in general and such actions by the Russians have been perceived as more important."
Since the weekend, 200 troops have been out in the archipelago hunting what is rumoured to be a damaged Russian submarine. Commander Sverker Göranson announced on Tuesday that the Armed Forces were even prepared to "use weapons" to get the submarine to surface, if necessary.
Britz, who specializes in European security policy and Nordic defence policy, commended the military's approach to the operation, but still has some reservations. 
She says that while the Swedish Armed Forces have been "very open" with the operation so far, they haven't been clear on what exactly kicked things off.
She mentions that the Swedish military refused to confirm or deny reports published in the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper that Swedish intelligence intercepted a distress call from the archipelago being sent to Russian enclave Kaliningrad. 
"We have to remember that the Armed Forces have no choice but to be open about this. It's happening too close to Stockholm to carry out a secret operation. Imagine hiding an operation like that with today's social media. Facebook would be overloaded with pictures and speculation. Even if they wanted to be secretive they couldn't," she explains.

Around 200 troops are in the Stockholm archipelago. Photo: TT
"If they've been secretive about anything, it's about their own information. We don't know what observations they've made out there. You'd expect something though considering how long they've been out there and how many people are on the scene."
While the story is likely to fade away for the rest of the world, Britz said the whole episode will have lasting ramifications for Sweden. For one thing, the professor predicts an upswing in the money spent on Sweden's defence, which has been drastically cut back in recent years.
"But we might also see better progress in co-operation with other Nordic countries and especially Finland," she predicts.
Story continues below…
She says that politicians in Sweden and Finland have long been pushing for defence cooperation, but that the countries have a differing "threat perception" which has proven to be problematic for negotiations. 
"This incident will raise the awareness of a Russian threat among Swedes. While Finland has never stopped seeing Russia as a threat, Sweden decided there wasn't any ten years ago. Of course, Sweden will never announce that a Russian submarine in the Stockholm archipelago prompted them to cooperate more with Finland, but it could be a catalyst," she explains.  

Photo: TT
She declined to comment on whether Sweden should join Nato, stating that it was a decision for the politicians.
When asked to gaze into her crystal ball as to what will happen next, she said:
"They might find the submarine, but I don't think they will actually force it to surface."
"Politically, it might not be the best idea. Even if we find it and confirm that it's Russian, it will become diplomatically problematic if we show it. I don't think they would put any people inside the submarine on the spot like that."

For more news from Sweden, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Oliver Gee (oliver.gee@thelocal.se)

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