Sweden boosts patrols on Gotland amid Russia tensions

STOCKHOLM, Jan. 13 (Reuters) – The Swedish military said Thursday it was ramping up its visible activities on the Baltic Sea island of Gotland amid heightened tensions between NATO and Russia and a recent deployment of Russian landing craft in the Baltic.

Moscow has terrified the West by rallying troops near Ukraine, raising fears it is considering invading. Moscow denies such plans and says it can deploy troops on its territory as it sees fit. read more

Gotland, Sweden’s largest island, is strategically important and is located about 330 kilometers (205 miles) from Kaliningrad, the headquarters of the Russian Baltic Fleet. In 2019, Sweden deployed an updated surface-to-air missile defense system on the island.

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Lieutenant General Michael Claesson, head of joint operations in the armed forces, told Reuters that from Thursday troops were patrolling the harbor and airport of Visby, Gotland’s main city.

Sweden is not a NATO member but has close ties to the Atlantic alliance and has bolstered its armed forces after decades of neglect amid heightened concerns over Russia’s saber clashing in the Baltic Sea region.

Claesson said the move to Gotland was triggered by Russian landing ships entering the Baltic Sea this week and followed years of deteriorating security conditions, including in Sweden’s immediate geographic vicinity.

“Recent security developments and tensions at the security policy level have not changed that picture, but rather reinforced it,” he said, adding that the armed forces had recently noticed an expansion of foreign offensive capabilities near Sweden.

“…Russian landing ships are an example of such an offensive capability,” he said. “They went through the Great Belt Strait (Denmark) and entered the Baltic Sea.”

Claesson said the armed forces were also taking action in other parts of Sweden in response to recent Russian actions, but declined to comment further.

Sweden’s top military commander said last week that Sweden’s security strategy would be completely undermined if NATO agreed to refrain from further expansion and curb some of its activities in Europe, as Russia has demanded. read more

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Reporting by Helena Soderpalm and Anna Ringstrom Editing by Gareth Jones

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