Sergey Lavrov said Russia would feel compelled to act if Nato’s military infrastructure stretched to Sweden.
“It’s every country’s right to decide what form its security should take, but one must understand that if military infrastructure approaches Russia's borders, we would of course have to take the necessary military-technical action. There’s nothing personal in it; it’s just business,” Lavrov said in an interview with Dagens Nyheter (DN).
Stefan Löfven said the comments were “really unnecessary and uncalled for”.
“We in Sweden make our own decisions about our defence and security policy,” he told the TT newswire.
“We demand respect for that, in the same way that we respect other countries' decisions about their security and defence policies.” the Prime Minister added.
“It is well known where we stand. Sweden has been non-aligned for a long time, it has served us well. We have long let that be known and Moscow knows about it.”
On the opposition side, the Moderates’ foreign policy spokeswoman Karin Enström said Sweden should call in Russia's ambassador to find out more.
“This raises a lot of questions, which is why I think it’s important that the foreign minister summons the Russian ambassador to explain what Russia and the Russian foreign minster mean by this,” she told the TT newswire.
“In the same breath as he says every country has the right to decide, the reader is given to understand that there would be a very strong reaction on Russia’s part. It’s important then to speak directly with Russia and not to let this kind of dialogue take place primarily in the media,” the former Swedish defence minister added.
Lars Adaktusson, a member of the European Parliament, echoed a view expressed by many Swedes on social media. The veteran Christian Democrat said in a tweet that Lavrov’s comments “show clearly why Sweden should join Nato”.
Lavrov lägger ut texten. Visar tydligt varför Sverige bör gå med i Nato. https://t.co/LALggP1SG0
— Lars Adaktusson (@Ladaktusson) April 29, 2016
A Sifo poll released in September 2015 showed a marked shift in public opinion, with more Swedes in favour of joining the military alliance than against.
Of the 1,000 respondents, a total of 41 percent told the poll they were in favour of seeking membership in the military defence alliance, 39 percent said they were against it and 20 percent were uncertain.
Russia was cited as the reason for that swing in sentiment, but Lavrov was vague when asked what exactly Moscow would do if the Swedes joined their neighbours Denmark and Norway in Nato.
“That’s not my job. It’s up to the military, the defence ministry, and the Russian general staff. When they see what potential there is at the other side of the border – right at our border or a little further from our border, then they know what capacity exists there and what can be expected if Nato suddenly decides to stop us in a ‘hot’ way.”
Lavrov also blamed Sweden for a cooling off in relations between the countries after the revolution in Kiev that dislodged Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, and Russia’s subsequent annexation of Crimea.
He spoke of the solid trade relations and political dialogue that had prevailed before the Ukraine crisis, adding that Russia had always viewed Sweden as a good neighbour.
“But all of that was stopped by our Swedish colleagues; it didn’t happen on our initiative,” Lavrov told DN.
“From Stockholm we got the message that contacts would be frozen and that Sweden was adhering to the EU’s sanctions. This was a result of Brussels for some reason taking offence at our reaction to the armed coup in Kiev,” he said, repeating Moscow's line on the events of February 2014 that left dozens of Ukrainians dead.
Relations between Sweden and Russia have been tense in recent years.
Russia carried out a practice nuclear attack against Sweden in 2013, according to a Nato report.
Sweden’s security service Säpo has described Russia as the country’s biggest security threat.
And in October 2014, a foreign submarine – suspected of being Russian, although this was never confirmed – was spotted in Swedish waters just outside Stockholm. A number of Russian planes have also been spotted in, or close to, Swedish airspace over the past two years.