Sweden is a country famous for peace and a liberal way of life. Since some years this has changed due to Russian provocations. Now even an old cold war frontier base has been re-militarized by Sweden to combat what it considers to be a rising threat from Russia.
For more than 20 years Gotland has been of deliberate irrelevance, and now thanks to erratic Russian behavior, it has the spotlight. The total population of the place is said to be 57, 000. It is the largest island of Sweden even though it makes up less than one percent of the total land area. The island is a sleepy Swedish outpost in the Baltic Sea, but if a conflict broke out in the Baltic States, control over Gotland would mean control of the entire region increasing its strategic value.
Retired colonel Joakim Martell calls the government’s renewed attention on this strategic island “a good start”.
Why Sweden has begun worrying?
On March 29, 2013, two Tupolev Tu-22M3 strategic bombers along with four Sukhoi Su-27 jet fighters intersected the Gulf of Finland. They changed course off after completing dummy bombing runs marking a military base in southern Sweden and the headquarters of Sweden’s signals intelligence agency.
They were allegedly 24 miles inside Swedish territory just off the coast of Gotland, barely 100 miles from Stockholm, which is also home to the agency. This event caused a controversy in Sweden as the military was caught unprepared. A former general and now head of the PIR analytical center in Moscow Mr. Evgenny Buzhinsky said, “This statement about a supposed nuclear strike on Sweden is nothing more than a provocation, nonsense designed to stir up hysteria about the Baltic States”.
Than Nato had deployed an air-policing contingent of jet fighters to the region and had conducted a series of joint exercises to assure eastern allies and prevent possible Russian invasion. US defense secretary Ash Carter said, “We haven’t had to worry about this for 25 years. While I wish it were otherwise, now we do,” while explaining that the 2017 budget proposal designed by military deployments, to reassure eastern European countries who fear Russian meddling or attack – will rise from £547 million to £2.4 billion.
In 2014, the country was mesmerized for a week by reports that a Russian submarine was found lurking in the shallow waters of the Stockholm archipelago. Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist believed there was an increase in military activities in the Baltic Sea. “Underwater capacity is a central part of Sweden’s defense in peacetime, as well as during emergencies and war,” he added. However, Sweden had failed to find the submarine in the waters off its coast in 2014.
“This is one of the great challenges right now: what are they up to and why do they do it?” asked Michael Byden, Supreme Commander of Sweden’s armed forces.
Russia’s warning to Sweden
In the annual report for 2015 , Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of Nato, wrote, “As part of its overall military build-up, the pace of Russia’s military maneuvers and drills have reached levels unseen since the height of the Cold War. Over the past three years, Russia has conducted at least 18 large-scale snap exercises, some of which have involved more than 100,000 troops”. In June 2015, Russia warned Sweden of the ”risks” if they were to take support and join NATO. on March 21st to 25th, about 33,000 Russian soldiers prepared a military takeover of the Baltic Sea area practising the seizure of Gotland off Sweden’s east coast, Danish Bornholm island, Finland’s Swedish-speaking island- Åland and northern Norway. Following in May, Russia implements parallels Sweden war simulation.
What could happen now?
“A takeover of these islands would mean that NATO would not be able to send ships into the Baltic Sea and would make NATO irrelevant there. It’s such a strategic spot,” Peter Mattsson, a researcher at the Swedish Defense University said. “You are in the middle of NATO on one hand and Russia on the other, Gotland is in the middle of this.”
And while “this” doesn’t yet represent a return to Cold War realities, it does refer to an escalated delirious air in the Baltic. “I think that there is a new security situation in the Baltic area and in the Baltic Sea,” said Sweden’s Defence Minister Hultqvist. He also announced that the navy is upgrading its fleet of ships in order to improve its capacity to locate rogue submarines in Swedish waters.
The country also plans to transfer 230 soldiers to Gotland from 2018, strengthening the island’s defense. Nato is in fact only Two Properties Away From a Baltic Monopoly, this could be the reason for Russia’s hostility. It’s already been incited that the Swedish government is to boost defense spending and move the military’s focus to regional security after two decades in which international operations took superiority.
If Russia were to overtake the island, it would be a turn the entire game. Not only would Sweden be facing Russian forces based just off the coast, but Finland also would find itself flanked by the Russians in almost all directions. Hence NATO has a strong reason in defending the island, because nearly all other countries in the region are a part of the alliance. And if Gotland turns into a Russian base in the middle of the Baltic Sea, NATO will be faced with a challenge trying to defend its Baltic members.