In light of major US-led navy exercises in the Baltic Sea, Sweden is set to sign an agreement with the US on closer defense cooperation with the aim of increasing security in the Baltic region and Sweden’s immediate environs. At present, Sweden’s Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist is in the US to meet his American colleague Ashton Carter and sign a memorandum of understanding on enhanced military cooperation between Sweden and the US on interoperability, joint exercises and research, Swedish Radio reported.
At home, Hultqvist emerges as one of the most vociferous advocates of stronger ties with NATO under the pretext of Moscow’s “superpower ambitions,” capitalizing on his fellow Swedes’ deeply rooted fear of Russians.
From the Russian angle, however, the present-day escalation depends entirely on NATO’s thoughtless actions, Russian Lieutenant General Yevgeny Buzhinsky said in an interview with the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.
“No, I’m not going to demonize NATO, the US or its allies in Europe. For now, however, NATO has assumed a ‘real’ enemy and then proceeds to rearm, train and expand its military infrastructure. This is normal. We train, NATO trains,” Buzhinsky said.
This reality differs greatly from the popular horror image that is conjured up by Western politicians and commentators, Kristian Gerner, professor emeritus of history at Lund University, told the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.
“They [the Russians] speak out sincerely. They feel aggrieved. The Russian military leadership, the political leadership and the Russian commentators cannot accept that after the break-up of the Soviet Union Russia ceased to be a superpower. This reality has been the frame of reference for interpretation of NATO’s expansion as a threat,” he said.
Kristian Gerner called the Russian approach “irrational,” yet stressed how important it was to have an understanding of it. Gerner also stressed that Russia, albeit “highly militarized,” in reality poses no threat to the Baltic states.
His opinion is mirrored by Sven Hirdman, Sweden’s former ambassador to Moscow (from 1994 to 2004), a renowned opponent of Sweden’s NATO membership. According to Hirdman, the West has not done enough to understand the Russian perspective of today’s escalation.
“There is an emotional factor present. We all feel that Russia ended up on the losing side of the Cold War, although they should not have lost it,” said Hirdman.
According to Hirdman, the situation has been greatly exacerbated by NATO’s unlimited expansion, citing the West’s much-discussed verbal promise not to advance the military alliance eastward that was given to Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev after the reunification of Germany in 1990.
“The fact is that Western powers have advanced against Russia, but not vice versa,” Hirdman said.
In June, three major US-led war-games close to Russia’s border have been scheduled. The three military drills include the BALTOPS 2016 maritime exercise, encompassing 6,000 personnel, 50 vessels and 60 aircraft, that was launched last week and will last until June 26. Meanwhile Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are taking part in the US-led Saber Strike drills scheduled for May 27 — June 22. The Anakonda 2016 exercise runs in Poland June 7-17.