Sweden Bolsters Gotland Patrols Amid NATO-Russia Tensions
The Baltic island of Gotland, Sweden's largest, is considered strategically important and was previously identified by Swedish analysts as a possible "entry point" for alleged Russian aggression, which even the country's military considers unlikely.
The Swedish military has said they are scaling up their visible activities on the Baltic Sea island of Gotland amid increased tensions between NATO and Russia.
Guards are now patrolling the port of Visby, the largest town on the island, other important harbours and Visby Airport.
"From today, we are more visible and are in strategically important places of a civilian nature", Tomas Ängshammar, communications manager of the Gotland regiment P18, told national broadcaster SVT.
Ängshammar cited "increased activity" in Sweden's immediate surroundings and a desire "to make sure we have freedom of action".
"The airport and the ports are of great importance for the whole community on Gotland. And it is important to show both Gotlanders and other countries that we are an active defence that keeps adapting to the situation", Ängshammar explained.
Lieutenant General Michael Claesson, chief of joint operations, said the Gotland move was specifically triggered by Russian landing ships entering the Baltic Sea and passing through the Danish Great Belt Strait earlier this week and followed years of deteriorating security conditions.
At the same time, the military assesses that there is a low risk for Sweden to be attacked. Nevertheless, the existing units must be ready for deployment, they said.
Sweden's Supreme Commander Mikael Bydén said last week that the nation's security strategy would be entirely undermined if NATO agreed to refrain from further expansion and curbed some of its activity in Europe, as Russia has suggested in its twin proposals to the US and NATO that imply non-expansion and the non-placement of materiel and troops.
At the same security conference, Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist claimed Russia was "questioning and threatening" Europe's entire security system. Citing Russia's "massing" of troops within its own borders, which he framed as a "military escalation with Ukraine", and Moscow's set of security proposals to NATO and the US, Hultqvist claimed that Russia had "challenged international law" and "questioned other countries' right to self-determination".
While not a NATO member and traditionally non-aligned, Sweden has been inching closer to the Atlantic alliance and been beefing up its armed forces, which have been steadily shrinking since the end of the Cold War, under the pretext of the so-called "Russian threat".
The ongoing military beef-up that includes re-established units, budget hikes, and arms procurements, rests on an "assertive Russia" narrative supplied by military analysts, top brass, politicians, and the media. For instance, the very same Hultqvist claimed Sweden had no other military threats against it other than Russia, despite the two countries having not gone to war for over two centuries.
Gotland, Sweden's biggest island with a population of about 56,000, is considered strategically important and was previously identified by Swedish analysts as a possible "entry point" for alleged Russian aggression, should Moscow ever invade Sweden. In recent years, Gotland has seen a drastic re-militarisation.
A Russian delegation led by Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko held a meeting with NATO representatives on 12 January in the Belgian capital of Brussels to discuss the security proposals put forward by Moscow in mid-December 2021 that include the alliance's non-expansion and non-placement of arms within striking distance.
The sides, however, have so far failed to find common ground on the issue of what Moscow views as the transatlantic bloc's eastward encroachment on former Soviet republics and NATO sees as a "core principle" of its open-door policy.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grushko warned that Moscow could be left with no other choice than "counter-intimidation" if the parties fail to reverse the current course of events.