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Sweden re-militarises Baltic island of Gotland

14 september, 18:16
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Soldiers from the Swedish Armed Forces prepare an Blackhawk helicopterto exercise near Gotland. ©AFP
Soldiers from the Swedish Armed Forces prepare an Blackhawk helicopterto exercise near Gotland. ©AFP

Sweden's Baltic Sea island of Gotland is once again home to a permanent military presence, the military said Wednesday, amid speculation over the country's ability to defend itself against a more assertive Russia, AFP reports.

The Swedish government decided in March 2015 to remilitarise the country's biggest island, where the last barracks were decommissioned in 2005.

The move to make the troops permanent as of Wednesday came a year earlier than expected.

"The geopolitical situation has deteriorated over time and I've decided that we need a permanent presence, so we are advancing the schedule for the combat troops," Sweden's Supreme Commander Micael Byden told Swedish Television.

The Scandinavian country has deployed 150 infantry soldiers, with reinforcements expected in July next year.

In June 2015, US think tank Cepa published a report claiming Russia had held exercises with 33,000 troops aimed at practising an invasion of Gotland, among other sites.

The Swedish government has repeatedly downplayed the risk of a possible invasion, and experts interpreted the Russian exercises as a sign of increased posturing from Moscow.

But a June 2015 Swedish defence ministry proposal to parliament referred, for the first time since the end of the Cold War, to building up the country's defence "to prepare Sweden for war".

Stockholm has recently stepped up its military capabilities and exercises with NATO, and announced a major increase to its defence budget -- after drastic cuts implemented since the end of the Cold War.

"We don't see a risk of attack. This is an indication of Swedish sovereignty," Swedish Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist told Swedish Television on Wednesday.

A non-NATO country, Sweden has a long tradition of military non-alliance in peacetime but takes part in NATO partnership programmes and exercises. 

It also takes part in the EU's joint defence policy, and in June it signed a "statement of intent" on military cooperation with the United States.


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