In the 1980s, the Swedish defense had detailed plans to send troops to the neutral archipelago of Åland and turn Swedish-flagged passenger ferries into warships. Mine-laying and sabotage in the Turku archipelago were also part of Sweden's plan, claims a new book by Sten Ekman about the secret alliance between Sweden and Finland during the Cold War.
According to Swedish defense reports and reviews Ekman referenced, Stockholm was prepared to ignore the unique demilitarized status of Åland, first introduced after the Crimean war in 1856 and later confirmed by the League of Nations in 1921 and the UN after WWII.
At the time of the Cold War, Finland was bound by a friendship and assistance pact with the Soviet Union, so all contacts with the Swedish military and Swedish intelligence had to be done under utmost secrecy.
"We had dozens of different intelligence activities on Åland to prepare for the Swedish intervention, which the Finns also knew about," Staffan Kvarnström, the head of intelligence at naval base Ost between 1974-1978, said, as quoted by the Finnish newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet.
Ekman's book sheds light on Sweden's perennial fears that are strikingly similar to those of today — "Russian aggression." During the Cold War era, Sweden envisioned a Soviet occupation of Åland, a former Russian possession, and had a contingency plan in store. The plan featured extensive mine-laying around the Finnish archipelago, as well as establishing advanced positions for surprise attacks at night. Swedish icebreakers would be used as base ships for heavy helicopters. A special commission to confiscate merchant and civilian vessels in wartime had already been established and had reserved Gotland ferries and other Swedish-flagged ships for military purposes.
According to Kvarnström, a plan for troop relocation to Åland was made in connection with a military exercise in 1981. Among other things, Sweden planned placing a mobile radar station at Getaberget in order to monitor boat traffic east of Åland. Swedish troops and equipment would have been delivered either by hovercraft or by helicopters.
Gunnar Åselius, a professor of military history at the Swedish Defense University, stressed that military contacts between Sweden and Finland have always been swept under rug. What makes this situation exceptional, though, is Åland's demilitarized status, he argued. According to Åselius, this revelation will hardly affect relations with Russia, but is likely to leave a dent in Sweden's image.
"Russia has a fairly clear picture of how Sweden positioned itself during the Cold War and an equally clear picture of how Sweden is positioning itself now. The information in the book only confirms that Swedish neutrality has always been a bit hollow," Åselius told Swedish national broadcaster SVT.
The Swedish Armed Forces have refused to comment on the historic events citing secrecy issues.
The Åland archipelago is an autonomous region of Finland, situated in the Baltic Sea and separated from Sweden by only 38 kilometers. With roughly 30,000 inhabitants, it has traditionally had strong ties with Sweden and is Finland's only region to have Swedish as the sole official language. Åland enjoys a neutral status, which prohibits the placing of any military installations or forces on the islands.