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Monday, July 4, 2022

US and Sweden conduct military exercises on Baltic Sea islands

VISBY, Sweden ( Associated Press) — Swedish decision-makers at the turn of the century to defend Gotland against a foreign invasion seemed such a far cry that they demilitarized the Baltic Sea island.

Now, the Swedish armed forces are back, and they are practicing with US troops how to not only defend the island with a population of 58,000, but how to take it back from a foreign invader.

US Marines have conducted aerial drops and amphibious landings on Gotland as part of NATO exercises in the Baltic Sea.

Although the annual BALTOPS exercise is not held in response to a specific threat, this year’s edition comes amid heightened tensions with Russia following the invasion of Ukraine. About 7,000 military personnel and 45 ships from 14 NATO countries as well as Sweden and Finland participated.

Read more: NATO conducts naval exercises with Finland and Sweden

Despite their non-aligned status, the two Nordics have regular exercises with NATO countries, and their governments have decided in the wake of the Ukraine War to take full membership in the Western Military Alliance.

“I feel really prepared. I mean, we have made a big deployment on Gotland, and we will defend Gotland,” said Swedish colonel Magnus Frykvall, the island’s regiment commander, as the military hardware deployed to the coast “It’s a really tough job to capture a safe island.”

Strategically located in the middle of the southern part of the Baltic Sea, Gotland has seen foreign invasions throughout its history, most recently in 1808, when it was briefly occupied by Russian forces.

But after the Cold War ended, Sweden realized that the risk of Russian invasion was so remote that it focused its armed forces on foreign peacekeeping missions rather than regional defense. The Gotland Regiment was closed in 2005 as Sweden reduced its army.

Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 led to a reconquest, and in 2018 a new regiment was established on Gotland. There are now about 400 Swedish troops permanently based on the island. Further reinforcements are planned after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Nonetheless, many Gotlanders feel that Sweden will not be able to defend the island on its own.

“If we were attacked, we wouldn’t stand a chance because our defense is too small. We have a really modern and good defense, but it’s too small,” said Lars Söderdahl, in the island’s main city of Visby A 33 year old chef.

Sweden, which has been out of military alliances since the Napoleonic wars, last month applied for NATO membership along with Finland in a historic move. The current 30 members of NATO are set to discuss the issue this month. Turkey has threatened to block applications over the two countries’ alleged support for Kurdish groups.

Finland and Sweden have sought security assurances from the US and other NATO countries during the application period.

Read more: NATO chief tries to stop Erdogan’s resistance to Finland, Sweden joining alliance

Launching the BALTOPS exercise last weekend in Stockholm, US General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said it was important for NATO allies to “show solidarity with both Finland and Sweden.”

Their membership in the alliance would leave Russia in a difficult military situation, with the Baltic Sea being besieged by NATO members, except for Russia’s Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad and the Russian city of Saint Petersburg and its surrounding areas.

The strategic importance of Gotland, a popular summer vacation spot for Sweden, is often seen in relation to the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which are particularly concerned about any Russian invasion following the invasion of Ukraine. Gotland is about 100 kilometers (60 mi) from the mainland of Sweden and 160 kilometers (100 mi) from the coast of Latvia,

Uppsala University academic Mikel Norby told the Associated Press, “The thing is, from here on out, you make supplying and supporting the Baltic states a lot easier or a lot more difficult, depending on who controls the island.” Is.”

Along with NATO exercises, Russia’s Baltic Fleet began its military exercises this week. The fleet’s press service on Tuesday referred to the maneuvers as a scheduled exercise focused on “a variety of security tasks,” including the tracking and destruction of enemy submarines.

“The Baltic Fleet has more than 20 warships and boats in its maritime borders, which perform combat tasks individually and as part of ship search-and-strike groups and ship strike groups,” the press service said in a statement. “

It said that the ships participating in the exercise included corvettes, patrol ships, small missile carriers, anti-submarine ships, minesweepers and landing hovercraft.

Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark contributed to this report.

World Nation News Desk
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