07:56 GMT +330 March 2017
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    Looming 'Russian Threat' Spurs Swedes to Dust Off Their Cold War Shelters

    © AFP 2017/ JONATHAN NACKSTRAND
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    Perennial talks of the "Russian threat" have prompted peaceful Swedes into war preparations unmatched in decades. In the course of 2017, thousands of shelters are to be checked across the Nordic country, which has effectively avoided wars for over two centuries.

    A female Swedish soldier participates in joint Russian-Swedish military training exercises, 12 December 2007, outside St. Petersburg in the town Kamenka
    © AFP 2017/ ALEXANDER DROZDOV / INTERPRESS
    Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) is going to prioritize shelters on the Baltic Island of Gotland, which in recent months has been the focal point of Sweden's military activity. Sweden's largest and most populous island was identified last year as a gateway for a Russian invasion and has been experiencing a dramatic re-militarization after more than a decade of being demilitarized.

    In 2017, all of Gotland's 350 shelters should be thoroughly checked, MSB head Mats Berglund told Swedish Radio. Since the moment they were built, the shelters have been only subjected to random spot-checks, but are slated for a comprehensive inspection of unmatched scope in the light of the "special situation" in the Baltic and the ongoing rearmament. Gotland's shelters have room for 35,000 people, and most of them are situated in the capital city Visby, as well as Slite and Fårösund, while the island has a total population of roughly 60,000.

    In total, there are over 65,000 shelters with room for about 7 million people in Sweden, a nation of 10 million. According to MSB, they are intended to provide protection against all weapons that might be used, such as shock waves, shrapnel, gas, biological weapons, fire and ionizing radiation.

    In late 2016, the Swedish government voiced plans to reinstate a Cold War-era civil defense system. Subsequently, security chiefs in Swedish municipalities received a mailing from MSB urging to increase their ability to resist an armed attack against Sweden from a "qualified opponent," for which read Russia.

    During the Cold War, the Swedish government spent up to 80 billion SEK ($9bln) to build a comprehensive system of shelters throughout the country. When the Soviet Union broke up and the Warsaw Pact was ultimately dissolved in 1991, there was shelter space available for 80 percent of Sweden's population of that time. Since then, however, few new shelters have been built, whereas many have fallen into disuse. Another factor worth considering is that Sweden's population has risen by over a million during the past two decades.

    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
    MSB CIO Svante Werger suggested that civil defense installations that were in use until the early 90s be again made fully functional in the future due to updated defense guidelines.

    Security officials in Swedish municipalities voiced their discontent with the impending changes and admitted being hopelessly behind in preparations for lack of funds. Additionally, there was admittedly no clear-cut plan for how municipalities should provide protective masks, vaccines or fuel in the event of a crisis.


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    Tags:
    Cold War, bomb shelter, Gotland Island, Baltic Sea, Scandinavia, Sweden
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