Why are Swedes so scared of Russian subs?

UPDATED: News a wrecked Russian submarine had been found in Swedish waters stirred debate in Sweden on Tuesday - nine months after another high-profile hunt for a mystery underwater vessel. The Local asked an expert about the Swedes' seeming obsession with Russian submarines.

Why are Swedes so scared of Russian subs?
Not the Russian submarine mentioned in the article. Photo: AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky

Russian submarines were on Tuesday yet again top of the agenda in Sweden, just nine months after the navy's massive hunt for a foreign submarine in the Stockholm archipelago last October.

Video footage captured by a team of salvage hunters purporting to show a wrecked Russian submarine in Swedish waters immediately sparked headlines in Sweden when it was released. In Russia itself, the discovery was promptly ridiculed — mocking the Swedes' “obsession” with mystery underwater vessels.

READ ALSO: Sweden probes 'Russian' submarine wreckage

The submarine was later found to likely be an Imperial Russian vessel which ran aground off the coast of Sweden in 1916. But before the Swedish Armed Forces confirmed this on Tuesday afternoon, The Local asked Tomas Ries, senior lecturer at the Stockholm-based Defence University, why Swedes get into such a frenzy about Russian submarines?

Tomas Ries. Photo: Mats Andersson/SCANPIX

Why are Swedes so obsessed with Russian submarines?

It's history that matters. Sweden – and the rest of the world – woke up in shock in 1981 when another submarine ran aground off Sweden's southern coast near Karlskrona. This started an extensive hunt for submarines that lasted throughout the 1980s.

How prepared is Sweden to deal with foreign vessels?

In the 1980s, Sweden made an immense effort to boost its submarine hunting capability, including getting top equipment and so on, and became very well prepared for these types of events. Along with the incident in October last year, Sweden proves it is still on its toes when it comes to this. Discoveries like the latest one would attract attention in any country though, especially if it's a modern submarine.

Why are Swedes so scared of Russia?

It dates back to the Cold War when Soviet was a great threat. And the heritage is still there from the 1980s' intensive submarine hunting, when there was a lot that indicated that Russia was directing underwater action along the Swedish coast. That's why it's not strange that Swedes react in this way – Sweden is a small country and Russia is a large neighbour who has behaved in an extremely brazen and aggressive way lately.

How could the latest find affect Sweden-Russia relations?

In case it is a Russian submarine, the Russians should be embarrassed – but they won't be. We shouldn't speculate before we know what type of submarine this is. That said, it doesn't matter if it belongs to Russia or not – the nation has acted in an unnecessarily aggressive way lately, burning their bridges [with Sweden] as a result. Now they just need to remember that Sweden is a neighbour to be reckoned with and will react accordingly in case things get hostile.

Is there really any need for Swedes to fear Russia?

One shouldn't be afraid, but we definitely have to treat any potential security political threat very, very seriously, just because Russian president Vladimir Putin can and indeed has used military power before – not least in the Ukraine.

READ ALSO: 'If the Russians come our whole lives will change'

Interview by Elin Jönsson. The interview was conducted before the wreckage was shown to likely be a Russian submarine which ran aground off the coast of Sweden in 1916.


Sweden steps up Baltic defence in ‘signal’ to Russia

Sweden's defence minister has said his country is carrying out military exercises in the Baltic Sea to 'send a signal' to countries including Russia.

Sweden steps up Baltic defence in 'signal' to Russia
Swedish troops on the Baltic Sea island of Gotland. Photo: Joel Thungren/Försvarsmakten/TT

The so-called “high readiness action” means the Swedish army, navy and air force are currently more visible in the southeastern and southern Baltic Sea and on the island of Gotland.

No details have been disclosed about the number of troops involved in the action.

Sweden is “sending a signal both to our Western partners and to the Russian side that we are prepared to defend Sweden's sovereignty,” Hultqvist told news agency TT.

Ground troops on Gotland. Photo: Bezhav Mahmoud/Försvarsmakten/TT

“There is currently extensive military activity in the Baltic Sea, conducted by Russian as well as Western players, on a scale the likes of which have not been seen since the Cold War,” the Swedish Armed Forces' Commander of Joint Operations, Jan Thörnqvist, said in a statement.

“The exercise activities are more complex and have arisen more rapidly than before. In addition, the coronavirus pandemic has caused global anxiety and uncertainty. Over all, the situation is more unstable and more difficult to predict,” Thörnqvist said.

A Visby-class corvette and two Jas Gripen jets in the air. Photo: Antonia Sehlstedt/Försvarsmakten/TT

Hultqvist said Sweden was also monitoring developments in Belarus “very closely”.

Non-Nato member Sweden, which has not been to war in two centuries and which slashed military spending at the end of the Cold War, reopened a garrison on Gotland in January 2018 amid concerns about Russian intentions in Europe and the Baltic.