As of: 01/17/2022 7:57 p.m
Sweden has also reacted to the Russian military activities: tanks are now being deployed on the island of Gotland and soldiers are patrolling. The debate about joining NATO is more intense than it has been for a long time.
60,000 people live on the Swedish island of Gotland. It is centrally located in the Baltic Sea, less than 200 km as the crow flies from the Latvian coast and thus also close to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.
For a few days, tanks have been rolling through the streets and soldiers are patrolling the port. “The security situation has been deteriorating for a long time,” Matthias Ardin, who heads the regiment on Gotland, told Swedish television SVT. “There is more military activity in Europe and that is why the Swedish Armed Forces decided to reinforce here on Gotland.”
The island is considered strategically important because of its central location in the Baltic Sea. According to security experts, the entire region could be controlled from here. The Ukraine conflict could therefore also become a security threat for Sweden. That’s why the debate about joining NATO is currently being conducted more intensely than it has been for years.
NATO question splits the camps
Since Crimea was annexed in 2014, the Swedish military and NATO have been working together ever more closely, for example on joint exercise missions. The fact that the Kremlin is now demanding that NATO renounce the admission of countries like Ukraine is unacceptable, Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist told TV4, referring to his own country:
We decide ourselves about security policy solutions, with whom we practice, whether we want to be a partner of NATO or how we set up our armed forces. It’s none of Russia’s or anyone else’s business.
Most parties in Sweden would probably agree with that. The NATO question, however, splits the camps. While the social-democratic minority government, the Greens and the Left are against immediate accession, the bourgeois parties support membership or at least a NATO option, i.e. a theoretical possibility of accession. Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson announced a further deepening of the partnership.
Debate also in Finland
The debate in neighboring Finland is similar: With a border with Russia that is more than 1,300 km long, Finland is in an exposed position. Unlike Sweden, the Finns have long been considered pragmatists in dealing with Moscow. At the same time, there has been an accession option laid down in political programs for many years.
However, security expert Charly Salonius-Pasternak from the Finnish Institute for International Affairs sees no added value for Finland’s NATO relationship compared to Sweden. On Swedish radio he said:
There is perhaps a rhetorical difference. The Finnish Prime Minister can say to the Russian President that depending on Russia’s behavior, Finland must join NATO. On the other hand, the Swedish government can do the same because Sweden is a sovereign, independent country.”
Opponents and supporters are now on par
Neither in Finland nor in Sweden is there currently a majority in the population for accession. However, the Swedish newspaper “Dagens Nyheter” recently published the results of its annual opinion poll on membership of the military alliance: supporters and opponents are now roughly evenly distributed. A few years ago, the critics were clearly in the majority. The long tradition of non-alignment seems to be losing importance for some Swedes.
Discussion on NATO contribution in Sweden and Finland
Sofie Donges, ARD Stockholm, 18.1.2022 · 06:41