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    Imaginary Russians Are Coming (Again): This Time to Northern Sweden

    CC BY 2.0 / Håkan Dahlström / Swedish soldiers
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    In recent years, the "Russian threat" has become a mainstay in Sweden's political narrative. With the debate mostly focused on Russia's "aggression" in the Baltic, other areas of Sweden have not been deemed as eligible targets. A fresh report "sets things straight" by envisaging yet another equally ludicrous scenario for a Russian assault.

    Sweden's anti-Russian paranoia seems to know no boundaries, as the"Russian threat" keeps surfacing in the media, political manifestos and military reports. According to a report prepared by Sweden's Royal Military Academy, there is the threat of a Russian invasion of northern Sweden, if Russia were to expand the security zone around its bases on the Kola Peninsula.

    In the absurd scenario, involving tanks, helicopters and paratroopers, four Russian brigades numbering a total of 25,000 men are deemed enough to invade Sweden's northernmost province of Norrbotten, with Swedish troops offering little to no resistance. The landing of airborne troops is said to be supported with tanks roaring their way through the Russian-Finnish border. Needless to say, Finland is also expected to fall.

    "The threat to northern Finland and northern Sweden is in fact no less than the one being discussed in the south of Sweden," former Major General Karlis Neretnieks, rector of the Defense Institute and the editor of the report, told the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet.

    According to Neretnieks, Russia could thus expand the security zone around Murmansk by 500-600 kilometers, potentially reaching NATO's naval bases in northern Norway.

    In the report, the northern Swedish town of Kiruna is pointed out as a possible springboard and a future stronghold armed with ground-based defense systems and other heavy weapons. At present, Sweden only has a single ground regiment in Norrland, stationed in Boden. In the event of war, Sweden could instantly wheel out several battalions numbering up to 1,200 personnel backed by artillery. According to Neretnieks, though, even reinforcements from southern Sweden would have no special effect.

    "The Swedish army is very small; only about 14,000 men. Few people can be sent up here. Also, it will take a very long time. When they arrive, the war will be almost over," Neretnieks explained.

    According to Neretnieks, NATO-troops stationed in Norway and Finland remain Sweden's only hope. Neretnieks ventured that Russia will be able to pass through Finland in four-five days to several weeks, depending on Finns' level of mobilization.

    "We are dependent of Finland. We ourselves have practically nothing to show," Karlis Neretnieks said, suggesting it was extremely dangerous for Sweden to ignore Norrland's defense, as opposed to Gotland.

    Swedish armoured personnel carriers are seen in Visby harbour, island of Gotland, Sweden September 14, 2016. Picture taken September 14, 2016.
    © REUTERS/ TT News Agency/ Soren Andersson
    Peter Mattson, a researcher of Russia at the Institute of Defense, the Cap of the North is of paramount significance for Russia, more important than the Baltic Sea.

    "In practice, the Baltic Sea can be blocked, making it difficult for Russia to get out. From Murmansk, however, you can reach the Atlantic," Peter Mattson said. According to him, it is "quite obvious" that Russia is "betting on the North."

    While Mattson called Neretnieks's scenario plausible, given the range of modern missiles, he nevertheless said he did not consider a Russian invasion likely in the near future.

    Previously, Sweden was said to be likely to be drawn into a Russian-Baltic conflict at an early stage, with Gotland being a possible entry point for the deployment of Russian anti-aircraft defense. In 2016, 150 Swedish soldiers were stationed on the previously demilitarized Baltic island to somehow offset this threat. Again, the "Russian threat" was used as a pretext for re-establishing a permanent defense on Gotland.

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    Tags:
    Russophobia, Karlis Neretnieks, Baltic Region, Norway, Finland, Kola Peninsula, Russia, Scandinavia, Sweden
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