Sweden, much like Switzerland, has long held a position of neutrality in the decades-entrenched contest between Russia (and before that, the Soviet Union) and the West (the U.S. and the NATO alliance), but recent years have brought with it fears of a Russian invasion and/or takeover that has moved the Scandinavian nation closer to formally becoming a member of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). Recent developments suggesting such a move prompted Russian Federation president Vladimir Putin to address the possibility of Sweden joining the mutual defense pact, which he noted would force Moscow to consider once neutral Sweden a threat to Russia and look into countering said threat to "eliminate it."
Although Sweden currently retains nominal neutrality, it was announced last week, InSerbia reported, that Sweden intends to join the British-led JEF (Joint Expeditionary Force), which is a non-NATO-aligned military force made up of seven NATO countries. While technically still not NATO, it is linked to the organization and operates "under NATO's doctrines and standards."
Not everyone in the Swedish government is supportive of the country's swing toward Western alignment, voicing fears that joining NATO would rope the country into complying with Article 5, which calls for participation in a unified response by member nations if one of its members is attacked, of the NATO agreement.
"It will be difficult to stay out of a possible conflict, regardless of whether we are in NATO or not," former Swedish Supreme Commander Sverker Göransson said, as quoted by the Swedish newspaper Expressen (per InSerbia), warning that "a Russia that is getting more provocative and aggressive," which he alleged had led to "a much greater risk of something happening in our immediate surroundings."
President Putin himself stated earlier in the month, as was reported by the TASS news agency, that Russia would consider Sweden's joining NATO as an "additional threat."
"If Sweden joins NATO, it will negatively affect our relations because it will mean that NATO facilities will be set up in Sweden so we will have to think about the best ways to respond to this additional threat," the Russian leader said.
"We will consider this [Sweden's joining NATO] as an additional threat for Russia and will search for the ways to eliminate it."Putin insisted that Sweden is under no threat from Russia, despite complaints from those who fear Moscow's decade-long revamping of its military and the increased staging of military drills and exercises close to the borders of several eastern European nations, which includes the Baltic States and its eastern neighbor, Finland, which separates Sweden from Russia proper. Talk of imminent invasion and a possible prelude to World War 3 circulated through the media.
"It seems to me that only a madman can imagine that Russia plans to attack Sweden," Putin said. In his opinion, "as far as enhancing Sweden's military capabilities is concerned, this [NATO membership] will not be of any help."
The Russian president said that in joining NATO, Sweden would also give up a portion of its sovereignty, especially with regard to military deployments by NATO within its borders. He added that Russia "has no plans to threaten Sweden" and blamed the western media's "fake news saying that a Russian submarine or an aircraft was spotted somewhere."
A common media hobgoblin during the Cold War, the sightings of Russian submarines were often found to be attributable to other ships and objects mistaken for the underwater craft. After more than a decade of quiet along its sea borders, sightings began again in recent years, with one series producing more than 100 sightings within a week in 2014, according to The Local. Although there were reports that at least one sighting was of a mini-sub, a Swedish admiral reported, as stated by The Local, in 2015 that the submarine was actually a civilian working boat.
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