21:31 GMT03 August 2020
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    With the Swedish-Russian relations reaching their freezing point, Stockholm has intensified its military preparations in the Baltic region. Sweden's armament is fueled by incessant and unfounded claims of Russian "aggression" and espionage. Swedish army staff were urged to stay alert amid alleged espionage incidents.

    Swedish Military Region North has recently received a number of reports of suspected Russian espionage against classified objects. Additionally, individual soldiers were reportedly contacted for information, Swedish national broadcaster SVT reported. Lastly, a NATO soldier was reportedly "threatened" by Russians on a pub visit during a NATO exercise in the city of Luleå.

    "Every week I get reports of both large and small-scale spy operations," Mikael Frisell, head of the Military Region North told SVT. "During the large air exercise Ace in Norrbotten County, I received a safety report that a serviceman had been contacted, but I cannot say more than that," Frisell said.

    According to Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist, espionage comes as no surprise, and Sweden must stand prepared.

    "Russia is one of the countries identified in ongoing espionage activities. That in itself is no news. When it comes to concrete cases, it is partly a question for the Security Police, and partly a matter for the Armed Forces, which is why I refrain from comment," Peter Hultqvist told SVT.

    According to Tomas Ries, senior lecturer in strategy and security policy at the National Defense College in Stockholm, it is a new Russian tactic to flex its muscles this way.

    "The Finnish authorities said off the record that the Russians have become increasingly brazen. They are not so shy anymore, want to prove that they are strong and dangerous, and they want us to respect them," Ries told SVT.

    Last week, Sweden's Armed Forces said that foreign spies had been present at an international military exercise in the south of Sweden in August, to "gather intelligence and information."

    According to military reports, Swedish soldiers were approached by unidentified individuals even during the recent exercise on Gotland, the Baltic Sea island where Sweden last week decided to permanently station 150 military troops in an attempt to ward off Russian "aggression."

    "People in foreign-registered cars approached soldiers and asked different kinds of questions about the operations," lieutenant-colonel Hans Håkansson told the Swedish national broadcaster SVT.

    Last week, Swedish Defense Forces set up a telephone tip line, where the public can report anything suspicious in the vicinity of protected military areas.

    According to Stefan Ring, a military strategist at the National Defense College, the situation is serious, as Swedish society was lulled into a false sense of security during the first part of the 2000s, Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet reported.

    In light of the bleak security situation, the Swedish government is investing an extra 450 million SEK ($53 million) on new weapons. The Swedish Armed Forces are all set to receive Archer advanced self-propelled artillery systems, previously declined by Norway, Dagens Nyheter reported. Some Archers may be placed on the island of Gotland, which has seen a drastic re-militarization on the grounds of a Russian "threat."

    However, Sweden's rearmament of Gotland has been criticized by many experts as insufficient.

    "Realistically, one can say that companies are being stationed on Gotland, whereas the military would rather speak of brigades and battalions," Charly Salonius-Pasternak, a security researcher at the Finnish Foreign Policy Institute, told Dagens Nyheter.


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    Svenska Dagbladet, Dagens Nyheter, Sveriges Television, Peter Hultqvist, Scandinavia, Gotland Island, Baltic Sea, Sweden, Russia
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