John McCain spoke to reporters on Wednesday on his brief visit to Stockholm with Republican party colleague John Barrasso and Democrat senator Sheldon Whitehouse. Top of the agenda were environmental issues, IT security and Russia.
“We underline our concern for Russia's activities in the region and its military build-up,” McCain told Swedish media after he met Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström, Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, Sverker Göranson, on Wednesday.
“We all need to understand who [Vladimir Putin] is and what he wants. He wants to restore the Russian Empire,” said the 79-year-old war veteran, who has been a member of the US senate for the state of Arizona since 1987.
Senator John McCain posing for a picture with Sweden's Supreme Commander Sverker Göranson, left, and air force soldiers. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT
McCain has long advocated a more aggressive approach towards Russia and his comments are likely to fuel the debate in Sweden over its eastern neighbour's presence in the region.
The two countries have enjoyed a strained relationship in the past year, with Sweden's security service Säpo stating that Russia posed the biggest intelligence threat to the Nordic nation in 2014.
— US Embassy in Sweden (@usembassysweden) August 19, 2015
Earlier this year in June, a report for the US-based Center for European Policy Analysis (Cepa) claimed that 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.
The revelation followed an incident last September when 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.
This increased Russian military activity has caused jitters in Sweden, prompting Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist to announce that Sweden would be stepping up its military power, including stationing 230 Swedish troops on Gotland from 2018. But the move has been criticized by centre-right politicians, who argue the increase in military spending is not enough.
John McCain's comments were translated from Swedish into English by The Local and may therefore not reflect his original words in English.