Swedish military lifts lid on foreign intrusions

Swedish military lifts lid on foreign intrusions
Two Swedish JAS Gripen jets taking off. Photo: Lars Pehrson/SvD/TT
Sweden's Armed Forces on Friday for the first time disclosed secret information about the foreign powers violating Swedish territory in the past five years. Top of the list? The United States.

Sweden has seen foreign powers violate its territory a total of 42 times in the past five years, according to statistics revealed by the Armed Forces in a report by the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper on Friday.

The report comes on the back of the Swedish military pledging increased transparency following rising concern in the Nordic country after a number of suspected air and sea incursions by Russia.

But when the full list of countries was revealed on Friday it turned out that the main culprit was the US, which has strayed into Swedish territory seven times in the past half decade.

The most high-profile incursion was when a Boeing RC-135 Rivet Joint entered Swedish airspace in July 2014, despite being denied permission to do so, in an attempt to shake off a Russian jet.

Second on the list of countries violating Swedish territory is Russia, which has crossed Sweden's border without permission six times in the same period, according to the Armed Forces.

The other countries are Germany, which is responsible for six incursions in the past five years; Sweden's western neighbour Norway (five); Monaco (three): the Netherlands, Poland and Qatar (two); and Albania, Bahrain, Denmark, Estonia, France, Portugal and Turkey (one each).

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But Sweden's new Supreme Commander, Michael Bydén, told DN that Russia is one of the driving forces behind increased military activity in the Baltic area.

“Russia has more exercises, more complex training scenarios, they fly more often and sail more in their ships. We adjust our readiness over time. We use our fighters, our sensors and platforms 50 percent more compared to a few years ago,” he said on Friday.

And an unnamed staff member at Sweden's foreign ministry told DN that Russian aircraft apparently more often carry out intentional incursions, by flying towards and near the Swedish border. Unlike other states, Russia tends not to admit or comment on suspected territorial violations.

Tensions between Sweden and its eastern neighbour have intensified in recent years. In 2014, Sweden's Security Service Säpo said in its annual report that Russia was the biggest intelligence threat against the Nordic nation.

A year ago, a foreign submarine – suspected to be from Russia, although this was never confirmed – was spotted in Swedish waters just outside of Stockholm. A second underwater sighting was later reported and a number of Russian planes have also been spotted in or close to Swedish airspace over the past 18 months.

Sweden's government announced earlier this year that it was set to invest 10.2 billion kronor into its armed forces. It has also stepped up its exercises with Nato and moved to secure closer military ties with neighbouring countries.

But the country's defence capabilities have been questioned following comments from former Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces Sverker Göranson that Sweden could only defend itself for a week if it were attacked.