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EXPLAINED: How Sweden could be impacted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Tensions between Russia and western nations have increased following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The Local takes a look at Sweden's stance on the crisis and how the country could be impacted.

EXPLAINED: How Sweden could be impacted by Russia's invasion of Ukraine
Ukrainians in the city of Mariupol rallied on February 22nd against the Russian actions in the region. Photo: AP Photo/Sergei Grits

What’s Sweden’s relationship with Russia in general?

Although Sweden and Russia do not share a border, Russia is still a close neighbour to Sweden in terms of geography, with strategically-placed areas of Sweden such as the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea often identified as potential targets for Russian military action.

In fact, as recently as January this year, Sweden rolled out tanks to the island of Gotland amid what the military described as increased “Russian activity” in the region.

In comments to The Local back in 2015, Gotland residents described their feelings towards Russia: “When I grew up in the 1950s, our parents used to threaten us with Russia if we didn’t behave. ‘If you don’t finish your dinner the Russians will get you.’ That threat is here again now, in real life. We are after all rather vulnerable out here in the Baltic Sea,” one resident said at the time.

Although Sweden has not been at war in over 200 years, the country were often at war with Russia prior to this, often over control of territory in the Baltic region.

In 2017, Sweden reintroduced mandatory military service and reopened its garrison on Gotland in January 2018 amid concerns about Russian intentions in Europe.

What has Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said?

Andersson stated in a tweet on February 24th that “Sweden condemns in the strongest terms Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Russia’s acts are also an attack on the European security order. It will be met by a united and robust response in solidarity with Ukraine. Russia alone is responsible for human suffering.”

She had previously stopped short of describing Russia’s actions as an invasion, telling a press conference on February 22nd that their actions were a “clear violation of international law”, and that “Sweden strongly denounce Russia’s actions”. When pressed by journalists on whether Russia’s actions constituted an invasion, Andersson called them instead an act of “aggression”.

Andersson stated in the February 22nd press conference that sanctions from the EU “could naturally have some effect on Sweden, but above all it depends on whether Russia retaliate with their own sanctions against Sweden”.

Andersson has also commented on Sweden’s willingness to take in Ukrainian refugees if the conflict escalates even further, saying in comments to newspaper Dagens Nyheter that Sweden “cannot take as large a proportion of refugees as we did in 2015”, and that it is “reasonable that countries who didn’t take as much responsibility then take more responsibility this time”.

How likely is it that Sweden will join Nato? 

Public support for joining Nato has been increasing in Sweden. A Demoskop poll last year found that 46 percent of Swedish citizens supported joining the alliance, an increase of 10 percentage points in just two years, and up from as low as 17 percent in 2012. 

Sweden’s parliament in December voted through a parliamentary decision calling for the country to, like Finland, officially hold open a “Nato option”. This was possible because the Sweden Democrats dropped their previous ambivalence over Nato membership and sided with the pro-membership Moderate, Centre, Christian Democrat and Liberal parties.   

Foreign Minister Ann Linde said that this parliamentary decision, and the resulting international uncertainty over Sweden’s position, was “not good for Swedish security”. 

While Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist has brought Sweden’s armed forces closer to Nato, with Sweden running frequent joint military exercises, the Social Democrat party remains strongly opposed to joining. 

“The Social Democratic Party is, for identity reasons, quite clear that Sweden should have an independent voice in international politics, and they have a very 1980s perspective of Nato as being US-controlled,” Magnus Christiansson at the Swedish Defence Institute told The Local in January.

While the right-wing parties have united behind support for Nato membership, the centre-left and left were implacably opposed, meaning it will take a change of government, and probably a referendum, for Sweden to join. 

It’s an election year

It’s important to note that all of this is coming at a sensitive time for Sweden, and particularly for the minority Social Democrat government, who will be hoping to increase their share of the vote in September’s election. Holding on to voters who might otherwise move to the anti-immigration Sweden Democrat party could be one reason why Andersson tried to shift responsibility for taking in refugees onto other countries.

Nuclear attack ‘unlikely’

When questioned in a press conference on February 24th about how she interpreted Putin’s speech the previous evening, in which he threatened all “outsiders who are considering getting involved: if you do so, you will meet consequences greater than any you have met in history”, Andersson stated that “the entire speech is full of statements which are shocking and which, alongside threatening Ukraine, also threaten the rest of the world and Europe”.

Foreign Secretary Ann Linde stated in the same press conference that she did not believe that nuclear attacks were likely: “It is in Russia’s interest to use threats of nuclear weapons as a strategic deterrence, but our assessment of the situation is that the use of nuclear weapons in this situation is unlikely.”

“We see that there is a clear risk for cyber attacks, but also for other hybrid threats against Sweden,” Andersson said. “Not just the armed forces, but also other authorities see that there is an increased risk at this time, and are taking precautions.”

Defence minister Peter Hultqvist described Russia’s actions as a threat to European security and a threat to Swedish interests and sovereignty in the same press conference.

How will it impact Sweden economically?

Sweden’s economy is not closely tied to either Russia or Ukraine, with only 1.5 percent of exports flowing to Russia.

But there are indirect factors that could have an impact, including rising fuel prices which are already at a record-high. On February 23rd, the price of a litre of petrol increased by 0.10 kronor to 19.29 kronor on average, and by 0.15 kronor to 21.62 kronor for a litre of diesel.

Around 40 percent of European gas comes from Russia, but since we’re heading into the summer months it is unlikely that the price of electricity will see a radical increase in Sweden in the near future. If the conflict continues into the winter, the scenario may be different.

Travelling to Ukraine

The Swedish Foreign Ministry advises against all travel to Ukraine and on February 12th urged all Swedish citizens to leave the country.

This includes all kinds of travel, including business trips or visiting family. The advisory indirectly affects non-Swedish citizens too, because if you have a Swedish travel insurance, it will usually be null and void if the Foreign Ministry has advised against travel to a certain country.

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Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest Sunday with an infectious hip-hop folk melody, boosting spirits in the embattled nation fighting off a Russian invasion that has killed thousands and displaced millions of people.

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Riding a huge wave of public support, Kalush Orchestra beat 24 competitors in the finale of the world’s biggest live music event with “Stefania”, a rap lullaby combining Ukrainian folk and modern hip-hop rhythms.

“Please help Ukraine and Mariupol! Help Azovstal right now,” implored frontman Oleh Psiuk in English from the stage after their performance was met by a cheering audience.

In the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the triumph was met with smiles and visible relief.

“It’s a small ray of happiness. It’s very important now for us,” said Iryna Vorobey, a 35-year-old businesswoman, adding that the support from Europe was “incredible”.

Following the win, Psiuk — whose bubblegum-pink bucket hat has made him instantly recognisable — thanked everyone who voted for his country in the contest, which is watched by millions of viewers.

“The victory is very important for Ukraine, especially this year. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Glory to Ukraine,” Psiuk told journalists.

Music conquers Europe

The win provided a much-needed morale boost for the embattled nation in its third month of battling much-larger Russian forces.

Mahmood & BLANCO  performing for Italy at Eurovision 2022

Mahmood & BLANCO perform on behalf of Italy during the final of the Eurovision Song contest 2022 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)

“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” he wrote on Facebook.

“This win is so very good for our mood,” Andriy Nemkovych, a 28 year-old project manager, told AFP in Kyiv.

The victory drew praise in unlikely corners, as the deputy chief of the NATO military alliance said it showed just how much public support ex-Soviet Ukraine has in fighting off Moscow.

“I would like to congratulate Ukraine for winning the Eurovision contest,” Mircea Geoana said as he arrived in Berlin for talks that will tackle the alliance’s expansion in the wake of the Kremlin’s war.

“And this is not something I’m making in a light way because we have seen yesterday the immense public support all over Europe and Australia for the bravery of” Ukraine, Geoana said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the win “a clear reflection of not just your talent, but of the unwavering support for your fight for freedom”.

And European Council President Charles Michel said he hoped next year’s contest “can be hosted in Kyiv in a free and united Ukraine”.

‘Ready to fight’
Despite the joyous theatrics that are a hallmark of the song contest, the war in Ukraine hung heavily over the festivities this year.
The European Broadcasting Union, which organises the event, banned Russia on February 25, the day after Moscow invaded its neighbour.
“Stefania”, written by Psiuk as a tribute to his mother before the war, mixes traditional Ukrainian folk music played on flute-like instruments with an invigorating hip-hop beat. The band donned richly embroidered ethnic garb
to perform their act.
Nostalgic lyrics such as “I’ll always find my way home even if all the roads are destroyed” resonated all the more as millions of Ukrainians have been displaced by war.

Kalush Orchestra received special authorisation from Ukraine’s government to attend Eurovision, since men of fighting age are prohibited from leaving the country, but that permit expires in two days.

Psiuk said he was not sure what awaited the band as war rages back home.

“Like every Ukrainian, we are ready to fight as much as we can and go until the end.

Britain’s ‘Space Man’

Ukraine beat a host of over-the-top acts at the kitschy, quirky annual musical event, including Norway’s Subwoolfer, who sang about bananas while dressed in yellow wolf masks, and Serbia’s Konstrakta, who questioned national healthcare while meticulously scrubbing her hands onstage.

Coming in second place was Britain with Sam Ryder’s “Space Man” and its stratospheric notes, followed by Spain with the reggaeton “SloMo” from Chanel.

After a quarter-century of being shut out from the top spot, Britain had hoped to have a winner in “Space Man” and its high notes belted by the affable, long-haired Ryder.

Britain had been ahead after votes were counted from the national juries, but a jaw-dropping 439 points awarded to Ukraine from the public pushed it to the top spot.

Eurovision’s winner is chosen by a cast of music industry professionals — and members of the public — from each country, with votes for one’s home nation not allowed.

Eurovision is a hit among fans not only for the music, but for the looks on display and this year was no exception. Lithuania’s Monika Liu generated as much social media buzz for her bowl cut hairdo as her sensual and elegant

Other offerings included Greece’s “Die Together” by Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord and “Brividi” (Shivers), a duet from Italy’s Mahmood and Blanco.

Italy had hoped the gay-themed love song would bring it a second consecutive Eurovision win after last year’s “Zitti e Buoni” (Shut up and Behave) from high-octane glam rockers Maneskin.