It’s all about Sweden’s Gotland, an island in the Baltic Sea. Normally Gotland is a peaceful, green island where you can relax among the sheep. But that peacefulness is just as far away now. The island no longer looks green from the grass, but from the army vehicles.
Of course, at the moment, the eyes are mainly focused on Ukraine. According to US President Joe Biden, chances are high that Russia will invade Ukraine. The border region between the two countries is becoming increasingly crowded with Russian troops.
They also notice the Russian presence in Sweden. It all started with submarines years ago. In October 2014, a submarine sailed around Swedish waters for days, sonar images showed. According to the authorities, it probably came from Russia. The vessel was not intercepted.
The Swedes are also afraid of the Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad. That is a piece of Russia on the Baltic Sea, sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania. Those Iskander missiles, which are known for being mounted on a truck, have a range of up to 500 kilometers. As seen in the map below, Gotland falls right in that range.
And then there are the mysterious ones drones flying over Sweden lately. They have already been spotted above Parliament, above the Royal Palace and above various military sites. The Swedes aren’t sure where they come from, other than that they’re special army drones. Presumably from Russia.
All in all, the Swedes are on edge. On Gotland, residents are happy with the military presence on their island. “I think it’s good that we show that we have an army. If you have an army, you should show it and use it,” a resident told Swedish TV4.
Showing that is important. “It’s very positive if more army units come to Gotland, especially to show that we are there and to send a message that way,” says an army member.
Because the question is whether the Swedish army can do more than deliver a message. Russia is militarily strong and Sweden is basically on its own. They are not members of NATO, the military alliance between several North American and European countries.
Attack on one is attack on all
NATO was founded in 1949 as a counterpart to the Soviet Union. The Netherlands has been there from the very beginning. The motto is: an attack on one is an attack on all. So should we be invaded, our NATO allies are ready to help us. These are all member states:
Sweden is therefore not one of them. They wanted to maintain their neutral status, which they have had since the Napoleonic era in the 18th and 19th centuries. So they didn’t want to choose sides between the United States and Europe on the one hand and Russia on the other.
Important NATO partner
The question is, however, whether Sweden would really be alone if it came to that. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg calls Sweden one of the military alliance’s key partners. The Scandinavian country can therefore count on support. And if the Swedes do want to become a member, they will, according to Stoltenberg be accepted immediately.
Incidentally, Russia is also responding to a possible NATO membership. That is already a very sensitive point when it comes to Ukraine. A demand from Russia is that Ukraine never join the alliance. If Sweden does, they can also count on Russian sanctions.
Extra scary on island
And such a threat does not leave the Swedes untouched. Especially not on Gotland. “I’ve talked about it with my husband,” a resident told TV4. “We’re really stuck here on Gotland. If the situation on the mainland is threatening, you grab your car and you can leave. But you can’t do that here. That makes it scary.”