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‘Russia rehearsed invasion of Sweden’

Claims that thousands of Russian soldiers took part in a huge military exercise which simulated a takeover of the Swedish island of Gotland earlier this year have caused jitters in Sweden.

'Russia rehearsed invasion of Sweden'
Russia's President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Mikhail Klimentyev/RIA-Novosti, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Some 33,000 Russian soldiers rehearsed a military takeover of the Baltic Sea area on March 21st to 25th, including practising the seizure of Gotland off Sweden's east coast, Danish island Bornholm, Finland's Swedish-speaking Åland islands and northern Norway, security expert Edward Lucas writes in a new report for US-based Center for European Policy Analysis (Cepa).

“If carried out successfully, control of those territories would make it all but impossible for Nato allies to reinforce the Baltic states,” his report, titled 'The Coming Storm', claims.

The Swedish Armed Forces did not want to comment when approached by Sweden's largest news agency, TT, but the report caused concern in Sweden on Thursday, where a poll earlier this year showed nearly one in three think the country should join Nato — a shift in public opinion largely credited to a rising fear of a potentially aggressive Russia. 

“Edward Lucas wants to show that Northern Europe and Poland have the economic resources to defend themselves but are far too disunited, but also that the Baltic Sea area is very important and that what happens here matters to the rest of Europe,” Johan Eellend, security political analyst at the Swedish Defence Research Agency (Totalförsvarets forskningsinstitut, FOI) told TT.

“A takeover of these islands would mean that Nato would not be able to send ships into the Baltic Sea and would make Nato irrelevant there. It's such a strategic spot,” Peter Mattsson, researcher at the Swedish Defency University (Försvarshögskolan), added.

Sweden's security service Säpo recently stated that the biggest intelligence threat against the Nordic nation in 2014 came from its eastern neighbour. Last month, the country launched an unexpected military exercise to parallel a similar war games simulation, involving a number of Nato states, held in Sweden.

And Lucas' report – in which he urges Sweden to intensify cooperation with Nato – comes just a week after Russia's ambassador to Sweden, Viktor Tatarintsev, warned that Sweden would be likely to face military action if it were to join the defence alliance.

Swedish-Russian relations have been under strain in the past year, following increased 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.

“I think that there is a new security situation in the Baltic area and in the Baltic Sea,” Sweden’s Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist told The Local on the day the sighting was confirmed.

He has also announced that the country's navy is upgrading its fleet of ships in order to improve its ability to locate rogue submarines in Swedish waters. Sweden also plans to move 230 soldiers to Gotland from 2018, strengthening the island's strategic defence.

NATO

Turkish president vows to block ‘terror haven’ Sweden from Nato

Turkey is 'determined' to block Sweden's and Finland's bids to join Nato, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday, calling Stockholm in particular a "complete terror haven."

Turkish president vows to block 'terror haven' Sweden from Nato

Abandoning their long established non-alignment policy after Russia invaded Ukraine, Finland and Sweden on Wednesday submitted a joint application for Nato membership.

But Erdogan is threatening to block the bid, singling out Sweden as “a complete terror focus, a complete terror haven,” in a video broadcast he tweeted on Thursday.

“We will continue this policy in a determined fashion and we told relevant parties that we will say ‘no’ to Finland and Sweden joining Nato,” the Turkish leader said in one excerpt of the video from his chat with young people.

The United States is “confident” that Turkey’s concerns over accession to Nato by Finland and Sweden can be overcome, a top advisor to President Joe Biden said Wednesday.

“We’re confident that at the end of the day Finland and Sweden” will enter Nato and “that Turkey’s concerns can be addressed,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said.

Speaking after Erdogan released his video, Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday that “concerns” raised by Turkey over the Sweden and Finland’s applications to the military alliance were being addressed.

“Of course, we are addressing the concerns that Turkey has expressed,” to find “an agreement on how to move forward,” Stoltenberg told a Copenhagen conference, after Turkey opposed the applications of the two Nordic countries over what it considers leniency toward Kurdish militant groups.

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