Sweden to hold 'biggest military exercise in decades' with Nato amid fears over Russia

By Caroline Mortimer

Vladimir Putin has vowed to 'eliminate' Nato if Sweden tries to join the alliance.

The Swedish military has announced plans to conduct its largest joint military drill with Nato in 20 years over fears about the growing encroachment of Russia.

The first exercise, called Aurora 17, is scheduled for September and designed to strengthen the country’s defences and create a “credible and visible” deterrent to make its neighbours “carefully consider the risks of attacking” it, the Swedish Armed Forces said in a statement.

It said: “The overarching mission of the Swedish Armed Forces is to defend the country's interests, our freedom and the right to live the way of our choice.”

More than 19,000 Swedish troops will take part along with 1,435 soldiers from the US, 270 from Finland, 120 from France and between 40-60 each from Denmark, Norway, Lithuania and Estonia.

It comes after Russian president Vladimir Putin vowed to “eliminate” the Nato threat if Sweden decided to join the organisation.

In June, he told the state news agency Itar-Tass: “If Sweden joins Nato this will affect our relations in a negative way because we will consider that the infrastructure of the military bloc now approaches us from the Swedish side.

“We will interpret that as an additional threat for Russia and we will think about how to eliminate this threat.”

Currently only tiny Montenegro is on the list of countries which are due to be inducted into Nato, as the military alliance steps up its presence in eastern Europe over fears about Russian encroachment.

Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, the commanding officer of the US Army forces in Europe, said no island was as strategically important at Gotland and said he was looking forward to working with the Swedes.

He told Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter: "Russia has changed the security environment.

"We have to react to that, and not just the US, but the whole of Nato. The countries closest to the bear have historical experience. They feel the hot breath of the bear – and they are the ones most worried."

"The fact that Sweden decided that they have to put troops back on Gotland is a very clear indication of what's going on. Sweden is known as moderate, credible and alliance free. Nevertheless Sweden felt that this was necessary."
 
 
The Independent
 
 
04.08.2017
 
 

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