Amid tensions across Europe over a newly belligerent Russia, the Swedish military and United States Marines on Sunday completed an exercise on Gotland, a Swedish island strategically important for control of the Baltic Sea.
“Many of us thought there was no need to defend Gotland after the collapse of the Soviet Union,” Colonel Magnus Frykvall, commander of Sweden’s Gotland Regiment, said in a telephone interview. “Since the war in Ukraine in 2014, this has been put in a whole new perspective, and with the current invasion it has become even clearer to us.”
The exercise came as fears of a military conflict with Russia, which seemed unimaginable in Sweden not too long ago, prompted the nation to apply for NATO membership. Gotland is a critical problem area for Sweden, which, like Russia, borders the Baltic Sea. Gotland is the largest island in the Baltic Sea.
The exercise was part of a broader annual exercise in which the United States sent a massive warship, the USS Kearsarge, into Stockholm harbor along with 26 fighter jets and 2,400 Marines and sailors.
It was the first time the military exercise, known as Baltic Operations, has included US Marines on Gotland and land-based actions there, Colonel Frykvall said.
The exercise, he said, showed Marines quickly linking up with Swedish troops on the beach at Gotland and then working to drive off an enemy force from an airstrip that invaders had taken control of and began using them to do more bring troops to the island.
Gotland’s history shows its strategic importance.
Russia invaded the island in 1808 during a war with Sweden, resulting in a month of fighting. Russian forces also landed on the island at the end of World War II in 1945 as a sort of “force projection,” Colonel Frykvall said.
At the height of the Cold War, 25,000 Swedish military personnel were stationed on Gotland, he said. But in 2005, the nation shut down its military regiment on the island.
“Sweden thought there would never be war in Europe again,” Colonel Frykvall said.
Then came Russia’s annexation of Crimea, prompting Sweden to resume a military presence on Gotland in 2014.
About 400 Swedish military personnel are currently on Gotland, Colonel Frykvall said.
“The number of military personnel on the island will certainly grow fairly quickly,” said Colonel Frykvall. “We expect a war organization of 4,000 in a few years.”
Read Also :