Sweden's Army Chief Warns of Russia's Ambitions in the Baltic Sea

Written by Camilla Jessen

May.22 - 2024 8:18 AM CET

Photo: Jeppe Gustafsson / Shutterstock.com
Photo: Jeppe Gustafsson / Shutterstock.com
The strategic significance of Gotland, Sweden's largest island, has come under the spotlight.

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Sweden’s top military official has issued a warning about Russia's intentions in the Baltic Sea, especially regarding the island of Gotland. Commander-in-Chief Micael Bydén expressed concerns about possible Russian attacks and the dangers posed by old oil tankers.

Strategic Importance of Gotland

Located in the middle of the Baltic Sea, Gotland's importance has surged with Sweden's recent accession to NATO. The island, Sweden's largest, is viewed as a critical point for controlling Baltic Sea dynamics.

"I'm sure that Putin has both eyes on Gotland. Putin's goal is to gain control of the Baltic Sea," Bydén told Der Spiegel.

"If Russia takes control and seals off the Baltic Sea, it would have an enormous impact on our lives—in Sweden and all other countries bordering the Baltic Sea. We can’t allow that," he stated.

Bydén stressed that allowing the Baltic Sea to become a "playground" for Putin would undermine the security of NATO members and regional stability.

In April of this year, Swedish troops conducted emergency drills on Gotland.

From the island, Sweden could assist other NATO states in ensuring security in the Baltic region. But if Russia were to invade Gotland, it could threaten NATO nations from the sea, risking peace in the Nordic and Baltic areas.

Environmental and Strategic Threats

Bydén also discussed the dangers posed by old Russian oil tankers in the Baltic Sea, warning of possible environmental disasters.

"Russia could cause an environmental disaster near us and make it look like an accident. The effects on the environment would be terrible," he noted.

These tankers could also be used for secret military actions, such as spying on communications, smuggling goods, or doing underwater sabotage.

Sweden’s recent NATO membership marks a big change from its long-standing policy of neutrality. For about 200 years, Sweden and its neighbor Finland stayed neutral, relying on their own military forces.

Russia's aggressive actions in Ukraine led to a major rethink of this stance.

Sweden applied for NATO membership in 2022, joining the alliance as the 32nd member on March 7, 2023. Finland joined earlier as the 31st member in April 2022.

Sweden's joining NATO boosts the alliance's strategic position in the Baltic Sea, with nearly the entire Baltic coastline now under NATO's control, except for Russian territories and the exclave of Kaliningrad.

The formal membership was completed when Sweden's accession document was submitted to the US Department of State, witnessed by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken alongside Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson and Foreign Minister Tobias Billström.

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