Sweden will raise defense spending €680 million over the next five years and put troops back on the Baltic Sea island of Gotland, its defense minister said on Thursday.
Peter Hultqvist said increased Russian military activity in and around the Baltic Sea was forcing the Scandinavian country’s armed forces to concentrate more on border defense than international operations.
“We are making it very clear that we are shifting toward a focus of the national operations,” he said.
The extra money would finance more submarine operations and a permanent military presence on Gotland, situated midway between mainland Sweden and Latvia and some two hundred nautical miles north of Russia’s European enclave Kaliningrad.
Gotland has not had a military presence in 2005.
In October last year, Sweden mobilized helicopters and stealth ships in waters off the capital Stockholm after reports of foreign “underwater activity.” It did not find what was suspected to have been a Russian submarine.
Earlier, Sweden announced plans to buy up to seventy new fighter jets as well as new submarines.
Last month, it entered into a new military cooperation agreement with Finland that could see the two countries go to war together in the event of an attack.
Both traditionally neutral countries are European Union member states. Unlike their neighbors Denmark and Norway, however, neither is part of NATO.
Swedish support for joining the Western military alliance surged in the wake of October’s incident. A Novus poll conducted for TV4 showed 37 percent in favor of NATO membership against 36 percent who oppose joining the alliance. Earlier, more than half of Swedes was against joining NATO.
A majority of Fins still opposes NATO membership but Prime Minister Alexander Stubb is not among them. “We have to aim at maximising Finland’s national security and being part of decisionmaking and that happens best as a NATO member,” he said last year.
Russia has played a cat-and-mouse game with its western neighbors since it occupied and annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine a year ago. The annexation, which came after a row with the European Union over the bloc’s improving relations with the former Soviet republic and the overthrow of a relatively pro-Russian president in Kiev, alarmed especially Eastern European nations about Russian revanchism.
Fighter jets from Scandinavian and NATO countries have regularly intercepted Russian strategic bombers and planes approaching their airspace through last year as tensions over the standoff in Ukraine mounted.