Sweden cannot rule out an “armed attack” by Russia and must redesign its security strategy to reflect the “long-term threat” posed by Vladimir Putin, including the possibility of nuclear war, the Nordic nation’s defence committee has found.
Sweden is still struggling to convince Turkey to cease blocking their bid to join NATO over concerns they are harbouring Kurdish “terrorists” and is scrambling to bolster its defences in the meantime.
A special Swedish parliamentary defence committee said on Monday (June 19) that the country’s defence must adapt to “Russia’s aggressive actions” and rising geopolitical tensions further to the east, a reference to China’s continued suspicious activity around Taiwan and in the IndoPacific region more widely.
The report, entitled “Serious Times”, claimed that Russia and China were responsible for a “greatly deteriorated security situation”.
It suggested Russia had “lowered its threshold for military use of force and exhibits a high risk propensity” to carry out further “armed attacks” against its neighbours and further beyond.
“Swedish security and defence policy should be designed to deal with the long-term threat Russia is judged to pose to European and global security,” it concluded. “ An armed attack against Sweden cannot be ruled out.”
The all-party committee, which is supported by security experts and deals with major issues such as security policy, added that the Ukraine conflict could escalate into the use of nuclear weapons or other mass-destruction arms.
Their findings were published the same day that US President Joe Biden said the prospect of nuclear war with Russia was “real”, while the Kremlin said they would not retrieve their newly-donated nuclear missiles from Belarus until the US had “withdrawn” its own European deployments.
Moderate Party MP Hans Wallmark told reporters that the “preconditions for Swedish defence policy have changed fundamentally”, adding that the Nordic nation’s population needed to be aware of the “consequences” of this change. He also accused Russia of being engaged in a “lengthy conflict with the entire Western world”.
Sweden has already drastically ramped up its military readiness and it is due to meet NATO’s threshold of two per cent GDP on defence spending by 2026.
But Peter Hultqvist, a member of the commission and former defence minister, later told reporters on Monday that more is needed.
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He said the country needed a “bigger army” by 2025-2030, including at least 10,000 conscripts per year, up from the current level of around 5,000 to 6,000.
Russia’s military involvement in other countries is not novel. Their Armed Forces, led in part by General Sergei Surovikin, who went on to oversee the “special military operation” in Ukraine from October last year to January 2023, were heavily involved in the civil war in Syria during the last decade, an effective proxy conflict between US-backed rebels and the Russian-backed dictator Bashar al-Assad.
The Russia-affiliated Wagner Group, sometimes referred to as Putin’s personal army and which is suspected to be the autocrat’s way of maintaining unofficial influence across the world, has also been fighting in dozens of countries across the African continent for years.
They have an unknown number of mercenaries operating currently in Mali and the Central African Republic, as well as in several other countries. They are expected to travel to Sudan to fight alongside the paramilitary group the Rapid Support Forces in the near future, as the fighting descends into a civil war.
The invasions of Ukraine and, to a lesser degree, Georgia in 2008, however, represent a clear violation of these nations’ sovereignty and have naturally had a profound impact on the concerns of Russia’s neighbours, such as Sweden; those still not in the alliance see NATO membership as the only way to protect themselves against the whims of a recognised war criminal with a notorious penchant for Pyrrhic expansion of his empire.
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Turkey continues to block Sweden’s bid to join NATO, however, as the date originally set to welcome the Nordic nation into the alliance at their annual summit in Lithuania draws nearer.
Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO two months after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, but while Finland was accepted in April this year, Turkish President Erdogan is still blocking Sweden’s bid over claims they are allowing the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a group they view as “terrorists”, to live and work there.
Many Western officials believed that Erdogan would renege on his firm position after the Presidential elections in May – stoking anti-Kurd sentiment was a tool he used to both shore up nationalist support and criticise his opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who openly defended the Kurdish population in Turkey – but he has maintained his stance a month after emerging victorious.
Oscar Stenstrom, the Swedish ambassador for NATO negotiations, said last week that he believed his country had “done enough” to satisfy Turkey’s requests but that Erdogan still wants “more answers” to his questions.
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