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How do foreign residents feel about Sweden’s security situation?

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has worsened Sweden's security situation and thrown into question its traditional policy of non-alliance. We asked The Local's readers what they think and feel about this, and got over 180 responses – here's what they told us.

The If War or Crisis Comes leaflet was sent out to households across Sweden in 201
The If War or Crisis Comes leaflet was sent out to households across Sweden in 2018. Photo: TT

It is important to underline the fact that the current risk of invasion is low, as Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson mentioned in her address to the nation on Tuesday last week, with no “immediate threat of an armed attack” against Sweden. 

However, the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency does recommend that individuals store enough food, water and other essentials to last a week, just in case of a possible crisis. Their leaflet, If Crisis or War Comes, has more information on exactly what this includes.

Two out of five respondents felt negative about Sweden’s security

The first question in our non-scientific survey was, “How do you feel about Sweden’s security?”, to which 40.6 percent of respondents answered “quite negative” or “very negative”, 32.2 percent felt “quite positive” or “very positive”, and 24.3 percent felt “neither positive nor negative”. Only 2.8 percent of respondents answered “don’t know”.

In response to the question, “How great a risk does Putin’s invasion of Ukraine pose to Sweden”, 44.1 percent said that the risk was “quite large” or “very large”, 23.2 percent rated the risk as “neither large nor small”, and 27.1 percent said the risk was “quite small” or “very small”. Only 5.6 percent answered, “don’t know”.

Majority in favour of Nato membership

We also asked respondents their views on whether Sweden should join Nato, to which the majority – 50.3 percent – were in favour. This is very much in line with a recent poll of Swedes carried out by Demoskop on behalf of newspaper Aftonbladet, which found that 51 percent were in favour of Sweden joining Nato.

In our poll, a higher percentage were against Nato membership (32.2 percent vs Aftonbladet’s 27 percent), and a lower percentage answered “don’t know” – 16.4 percent vs Aftonbladet’s 22 percent).

On the topic of how well-informed respondents felt on what to do if Sweden were to be attacked, a large number (42.5 percent) felt “quite uninformed” or “very uninformed”.  The next-largest group,29.3 percent, felt “very well informed” or “quite well-informed”. 

Over 60 percent of respondents had prepared for a crisis or were planning on doing so

A clear majority of respondents (63.6 percent) had either already done something to prepare for a crisis (27.2 percent) or were planning to do so (36.4 percent). Only 41 percent of respondents had not done anything at all to prepare for a potential war or crisis, and were not planning on doing so. 

Three-quarters of foreigners were willing to defend Sweden if attacked

Under the Swedish law of total defence, all Swedish citizens and residents of Sweden aged 16-70 have a legal duty to defend Sweden if required. In a question taken from a survey carried out by the Swedish Defence Research Agency, we asked participants in what role they would be willing to defend Sweden.

Three-quarters of respondents (75 percent) were willing to defend Sweden in the case of attack, with a somewhat surprising 53 percent of this number willing to defend the country in a role which puts their life at risk

Even more surprisingly, 23.3 percent said they would be willing to defend the country in “a combat role which puts your life at risk”, with 16.7 percent willing to do so in “a non-combat role which puts your life at risk”

A further 35 percent of respondents were willing to defend Sweden in “a non-combat role which does not put your life at risk”. 

‘Not prepared’

One respondent, a 40-year-old technology professional living in Stockholm, said that he felt negative about Sweden’s security, due to a “lack of armed forces staff, weaponry or international alliance (e.g. Nato),”further stating that “the historical assumption of safety via non-alignment and neutrality seems naive after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine”.

James, a 69-year-old dual American/Swedish citizen said that “Sweden [was] vulnerable and vulnerability is weakness. Non-alignment is not a strength. Good neighbours stand with their friends and Sweden’s history has been about protecting itself.”

‘Sweden should initiate peace talks’

A number of respondents also questioned Sweden’s reputation as a neutral country – one of these was Kam Raj, an Indian citizen who came to Sweden for work. He said: “Sweden says it’s a neutral country. A neutral country is one which initiates peace talks between fighting countries rather than supplying weapons and adding fuel to the fire.” He said he was worried the Sweden’s actions might provoke and worsen the situation, rather than improve it.

Putin is ‘too unpredictable and disturbed’

Janet Nash, an American who has lived in Sweden for ten years and still has family in the country, felt that the situation was “surreal”.

“The once imagined threat has become a real possibility because of this mad man, Putin. He is too unpredictable and disturbed, so we don’t know what he will do. Europe is not safe from Russian aggression, and Sweden is in a precarious geopolitical position regardless of its non-Nato membership.”

“Sweden’s leadership are brilliant, sensible, pragmatic people for the most part who will make good decisions to protect their country while doing what it can for its neighbours,” she continued. “I’m mostly concerned about the nuclear threat and how radioactivity might contaminate Sweden and Europe. I worry about my kids over there, and about everyone now almost constantly. I am praying a lot.”

‘More worried about the impact of climate change’

Sterling, an American living in Sundbyberg with a decade of experience in war zones as a humanitarian and conflict analyst was more worried about climate change than a Russian invasion.

“Sweden’s greatest security threat is likely Russia, which has committed a huge proportion of its army to fighting in Ukraine, with disastrous consequences,” he said. “I’m more worried about the impact of climate change on Sweden in terms of longer, drier summers with increased wildfires and heat-related deaths.”

‘Sweden and Finland will be in it together’

Valerio, a 24-year-old Italian business developer based in Stockholm, also felt positive about Sweden’s security situation.

“If (God forbid) there is a war, Sweden and Finland will be in it together,” he said. “Sweden has a small but very advanced navy and Finland has land forces comparable to Ukraine (smaller but with better tools). Both are backed by the EU. What matters is morale. I am not Swedish and I love this country: I hope its citizens will fight for it with me”.

‘If anything happens in Sweden, I will protect it as my own country’

Oleksandra, a 36-year-old Ukrainian from Crimea who moved to Sweden in 2019 with her family, said she felt safer in Sweden than in her home country, but wanted the government to provide more information on how to prepare in case of an attack on Sweden. “We feel much safer in Sweden, but I want to know what I can do to be prepared. I am checking where the nearest bomb shelter is and packing an urgent backpack with essential stuff and documents to be ready to run just in case.”

“I want to know what training I can take to be prepared. And how I can help in case anything happens. I would be happy if Swedish authorities made some announcements and explained what to do and how. I cannot protect Ukraine now, I can only donate money to various funds and go outside for demonstrations and help to spread the truth. But if anything happens in Sweden, I will protect it as my own country. Glory to Ukraine!”

‘There is not a single chance for a Russian invasion of Sweden’

Vincent, a 26-year-old reader in Norra Dalarna said that “It’s totally absurd to worry about a war on an EU country, there is no reason to worry at all. There is not a single chance for a Russian invasion of Sweden. The only risks are to the economy and the price of food, gas and oil.”

He was also against possible Swedish Nato membership, stating that “becoming an official NATO member is the best way to be involved in conflicts with or because of the USA and their unlimited appetite for destruction”.

Join Nato or remain alliance-free?

On the topic of Nato membership, respondents were split. Some felt that Sweden should join Nato to protect from a possible Russian attack, whereas others were worried that joining Nato could provoke Russia into retaliation.

Natasha, a 22-year-old originally from Indonesia, felt that Sweden should join Nato, stating that “although Sweden doesn’t have a Soviet history like Ukraine does, if this invasion in Ukraine doesn’t stop and Russia comes up winning, they will no doubt do the same thing to other countries in Europe. Sweden is already pretty close geographically to Russia. And the fact that this is happening to one of our European neighbours says a lot”.

Irene, a 27-year-old from Barcelona based in Stockholm, felt that joining Nato would be a bad idea. “Sweden has been a neutral country for almost 200 years. Ideologically, it wouldn’t make sense to break this pact now. Also, Nato is the closest thing to a full alliance with the US, and I am extremely opposed to participating in the remains of a Cold War and aligning with the US”.

More information in English

In terms of how well-informed people felt in the event of a potential war or crisis, many respondents mentioned a need for information to be shared in other languages than Swedish. Stephani, a 31-year-old teacher who felt “quite well-informed” said that “information has been shared, but not always in English”. 

Attiqe Ur Rehman, a 33-year-old software engineer from Pakistan, felt that there should be clearer guidelines for non-Swedes on what to do if there was a crisis: “What should be the course of action for students and foreigners? We don’t know!”

Monica, an African communications expert, was also worried about foreigners: “I know a bit about what to do, but I’m worried about many foreigners, or newly arrived, where information might be lost in translation.”

If Crisis or War Comes

Many respondents mentioned the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency’s leaflet detailing what to do in the event of an attack, titled “If Crisis or War Comes”. Some said that they had received the leaflet in 2018 when it was delivered to households across Sweden, but were unsure as to whether they had kept it or not.

Others felt that it was a useful tool which helped them feel more prepared for a possible crisis.

Terry Martin, a dual UK/Swedish defence analyst who had previously lived in Moscow working alongside Russians and Ukrainians, said that “the crisis guide is pretty informative, particularly when compared to other countries”.

‘No pointers on what to do’

Ryan Evans, a 27-year-old from the UK based in central Sweden, said that, “while I have read the If Crisis or War Comes leaflet and read some articles, the Total Defence does not make any sense to me, as you are required to do what you can against the incursion – yet there are no pointers on what to do or how to do it.”

“Those with mental health issues or invisible disabilities could end up being forced into conflict as Sweden doesn’t seem to have a ‘register’ of those who can fight, or to what degree. With ‘Total Defence’ being reintroduced, Sweden should offer a box of necessities to each household free of charge or for a nominal sum so there is at least some form of universal preparation across the country,” he added.

‘I have been in denial’

Many of those who had not done anything to prepare for a possible attack said they had put it off because they were in denial. 

“It’s taken me a while to realise the risk,” said Gary, a 63-year-old dual Irish and South African citizen. “No, it’s probably more that I have been in denial. I am a combat veteran from a war with Cuba and Russia in Africa, and part of me denies this despite the fact that I should know better. I do, but I don’t want to. To acknowledge would be to accept that a repeat is imminent.”

Many others had not done anything, saying they did not feel Sweden was under threat.

Most of those who had done something to prepare or were planning on doing so had bought supplies such as non-perishable food, candles, or water. Many had checked where their nearest shelter was, and some had renewed passports or discussed with family whether to return to their home countries or stay in Sweden if anything were to happen.

Some had also prepared boxes with a small amount of food and toiletry items if they need to retreat to a shelter, or were planning on doing so.

Thanks to everyone who took part in the survey for sharing your thoughts. Please note that this was not scientific: We asked our readers to share their thoughts on Sweden’s security situation, and closed the survey after we had received 184 responses. It was optional for respondents to share information about their nationality, and those who chose to share this information came from at least 27 different countries. The comments published here are intended as a representative sample of the responses we received.

Member comments

  1. This constant reporting on Sweden’s involvement in a War that does not concern them is getting out of hand . Sweden is a nice peaceful country , that has avoided War for seven hundred years . It became rich during the last World War because it collaborated with the Nazis . The article says Foreigners would fight to defend Sweden . I doubt they are being truthful . The Majority of Foreigners are Refugees from Wartorn countries , who having been welcomed into Sweden do not assimilate . They can not get good jobs because they do not have a Swedish surname and live hand to foot facing discrimination . Many of them are too busy shooting each other in gang warfare to bother shooting Russians . 700 years ago Sweden invaded Russia and got beaten by Peter the Great . Nothing has changed , they have repelled every Western invader beating Hitler all the way back to Berlin . NATO started off as twelve members . America signed a pact with Gorbachov that if Germany were allowed to join NATO there would be no more countries allowed into that Club . The Russians dissolved the Warsaw Pact and NATO and America renegades on the understanding ( there are hundreds of documents backing this ) and started expanding East towards Russia taking in many of the former Soviet Bloc States . Russia felt humiliated , half their population went , their army decapitated and NATO moving closer to their border . All warnings were ignored over and over again , and when Ukraine was the next NATO target the net result is this War . Norway , Denmark and Finland know the horrors of modern War , Sweden does not so once again , I ask why would a Neutral Country want to join NATO and why is Sweden provoking Russia by sending arms to Ukraine . There is a terrible War in Ethiopia over a million dead the country was invaded so why Ukraine and not Africa ? The first War I was in ten million people died . I have seen three wars and I have seen very fat vultures eating dead humans , so my advise is stop this propaganda , stop your misinformation , go shoot your Elk and stay Neutral because you don’t have the foggiest idea what will happen to you when China join Russia in this fight for Autocratic Domination .

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NATO

Sweden and Finland to discuss Nato bid with Erdogan at Madrid summit

Finnish and Swedish leaders will discuss their stalled NATO bids with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday at the start of an alliance summit in Madrid, officials said.

Sweden and Finland to discuss Nato bid with Erdogan at Madrid summit

But Turkey said the four-way meeting, which will also involve NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, did not mean that Ankara was close to lifting its objection to the two Nordic countries joining the military bloc.

The four leaders will meet in Madrid, in a last ditch bid to break to deadlock before the start of the alliance’s summit, which will focus on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Officials from Ankara, Helsinki and Stockholm held a fresh round of talks on Monday at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels to try to hammer out the differences.

“My strong hope is that this dialogue can be successfully concluded in the near future, ideally before the summit,” said Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson after meeting Stoltenberg in Brussels.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year saw the two Nordic countries abandon decades of military non-alignment by applying for NATO membership in May.

But the joint membership bid, initially believed to be a speedy process, has been delayed by objections from NATO member Turkey.

‘Safe haven’

Ankara has accused Finland and Sweden particularly of providing a safe haven for outlawed Kurdish militants whose decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

The Turkish leader has also called on Sweden and Finland to lift arms embargoes imposed against Turkey in 2019 over Ankara’s military offensive in Syria.

Erdogan signalled on Saturday that no progress had been made in Sweden’s bid to join NATO, urging Stockholm to take “concrete actions” to meet Ankara’s concerns.

Andersson insisted at NATO on Monday that “Sweden is not and will not be a safe haven for terrorists” and said Stockholm had sought to address Turkish concerns over extradition requests lodged by Ankara.

“The relevant authorities work intensively in order to expel persons who could be a security threat,” Andersson said. “And there are a substantial number of cases which are currently being processed.”

Turkish officials said Ankara does not view the summit as a final deadline for resolving its objections. Erdogan’s chief foreign policy adviser said Tuesday’s four-way meeting did not mean that an agreement was imminent.

‘Serious changes’

“Participating in this summit does not mean that we will step back from our position,” Ibrahim Kalin told HaberTurk channel. “We are conducting a negotiation. It has many stages.”

Kalin said Finland and Sweden needed to make “serious changes” to their laws “and constitution” — targeting outlawed Kurdish militants.

“We want you to show the same change against the PKK and its affiliated YPG, PYD and similar structures,” he said, referring to Kurdish groups operating in Syria and Iraq.

Stoltenberg insisted that Sweden had “taken concrete steps in recent days to directly address Turkey’s concerns”.

“You have already amended Swedish law. You have launched new police investigations against the PKK and you are currently looking at Turkish extradition requests,” he told Andersson.

“These concrete steps represents a paradigm shift in Sweden’s approach to terrorism.M

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