While Russian incursions of the Nordic nation’s airspace happen fairly regularly, Wednesday’s event was given increased scrutiny given Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Against the background of the current situation we are taking the incident very seriously,” Carl-Johan Edström, Chief of Sweden’s Air Force, told AFP.
According to the Swedish Armed Forces, the violation was brief, but Swedish Jas 39 Gripen jets were scrambled to document and photograph the two Su-24 and two Su-27 fighter jets.
The violation occurred during the day, at about the same time as a joint Swedish-Finnish military exercise in the Baltic Sea.
Edström told Sweden’s TT newswire that the four Russian fighter jets had flown “a few kilometres” into Swedish airspace, and that two Swedish fighters were sent up to meet them.
“We saw that they were nearing Swedish territory on the eastern side of Gotland, from the north,” he told the newswire. “As we arrived, an airspace and territory violation was carried out by the Russian jets. We were on the scene and could directly confirm that it had been done, and made sure it couldn’t happen again.”
The war in Ukraine has pushed Sweden to up its awareness, and on Tuesday Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson announced that the government take action to speed up the country’s rearmament.
Defence expert Robert Dalsjö told TT that Wednesday’s violation might be a warning to Sweden against Ukraine’s side.
“It would be very surprising if it wasn’t a way for Russia to send a message,” he said. “Four planes violating Swedish airspace at the same time looks a lot like a statement, especially now.”
“I would assume it’s a signal that Russia don’t like the fact that we’re on Ukraine’s side and have sent weapons to the country, shown solidarity with the EU and decided to strengthen Swedish defence.”
After the end of the Cold War, Sweden slashed military spending. It was only after Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014, that parliament agreed on a turnaround.
Sweden reintroduced mandatory military service in 2017 and reopened its garrison on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea in January 2018.
In October of 2020, it bumped up defence spending by 40 percent with an extra 27 billion Swedish kronor ($2.8 billion, 2.5 billion euros) to be added to the defence budget from 2021 to 2025.