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 announced 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 some two hundred nautical miles north of Russia’s European enclave Kaliningrad.
Gotland has not had a military presence since 2005.
In October of last year, Sweden mobilized helicopters and stealth ships in waters off the capital Stockholm following reports of foreign “underwater activity.” It did not find what was believed to have been a Russian submarine.
Earlier, Sweden announced plans to buy up to seventy new fighter jets as well as new submarines.
Neutral no more
Last month, Sweden signed a new military pact with Finland that could see the two countries go to war together in the event of an attack.
Both countries, traditionally neutral, are in the EU. But, unlike their neighbors Denmark and Norway, neither is in NATO.
Swedish support for joining the Western military alliance has surged. A Novus poll conducted for TV4 found 37 percent in favor of NATO membership against 36 percent who oppose it. Before October’s submarine scare, more than half of Swedes were against joining NATO.
Most Fins still oppose NATO membership, but Prime Minister Alexander Stubb is not one of 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 argued 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 EU over the bloc’s improving relations with the former Soviet republic and the overthrow of a relatively pro-Russian president in Kiev, alarmed Eastern European states.
Fighter jets from Scandinavian and NATO countries regularly intercepted Russian military planes approaching their airspace last year as tensions over the standoff in Ukraine mounted.