Sweden's Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB), an authority operating under the Defense Ministry and tasked with civil protection, public safety, emergency management and civil defense, has instructed local governments to reactivate the Total Defense Strategy civil defense procedures from the Cold War and be prepared for an armed conflict because the security situation in our region has deteriorated.
“This places a high demand on… operational speed, decision making, information sharing, crisis communication, flexibility, robustness and handling secret information,” the letter of instructions says, according to Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet (SvD). The instruction follows the revival of the ‘totalförsvarsplaneringen’ – or Total Defense Strategy – which states that defending the nation from foreign aggression should involve economic and civilian measures in addition to military ones. The decision, announced in December last year, was explained by a “worsening international situation” and “increased uncertainty in the immediate area.” The document as released by the newspaper further states that what is new is that the security situation in our region has deteriorated and that therefore we must prepare ourselves in terms of war and of conflict. This strategy is not new, we used it during the Cold War and will now strengthen coordination regarding civil defense.
The MSB insists that the preparations do not imply that Sweden is about to go to war. “There is nothing to indicate that war is likely, but we have the government’s mandate to plan for it,” MSB spokesman Svante Werger told the newspaper. Some of the security heads responsible for carrying out the instructions told SvD that the government plan was unrealistic and that they were still not sure how it would be financed.
For several years, Sweden has been pointing the finger at Russia to justify higher defense spending, occasionally seeing signs of aggression in issues that have nothing to do with the Russian military.
Earlier this week, the country’s intelligence chief called Moscow the biggest source of cyberattacks and influencing operations against the Swedish state. In September, 150 troops were put on permanent service on the island of Gotland not far from Russian territory, due to what Swedish officials called “external factors.” The country also returned a land-based anti-ship missile to service, taking some parts from military museums, to increase its defense capabilities.
In recent years, Stockholm has consistently claimed that Russian jets have been flying near the strategic area in the Baltic Sea. In October 2014, the Swedish Navy launched a large-scale hunt for a Russian submarine allegedly seen in its territorial waters, only to later acknowledge that the incident was caused by civilian shipping. Swedish authorities in 2015 allocated an additional 6.2 billion kronor ($696 million) to increase defense capabilities in 2016-2020 due to increasing concerns over Russia’s presence in the Baltic Sea.
Consistent with the national policy, officials on the Swedish island of Gotland said on Wednesday they were planning to reject the bid by state-owned Russian energy giant Gazprom to rent its harbor, citing government pressure amid growing security concerns over Russia's influence in Europe.
Following the information we got from the government, we very likely will say 'no,' a member of the island council's technical board said. We will align with the government.
Gazprom, which is planning to build its Nord Stream 2 pipeline under the Baltic Sea, wanted to lease harbors on both Gotland as well as in the southeastern city of Karlshamm, which has delayed a vote on the matter.
Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist and Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom spoke with officials from Gotland and Karlshamm to express their concerns that both harbors are located in strategically critical areas. Karlshamm is near a main naval base, sparking criticism from members of the military and the intelligence service, while Gotland is the site of a permanent Swedish military presence that was just re-established this year. Officials from the island will formally turn down the deal on Thursday, a Swedish news agency reported.
Gazprom had agreed with the EU on the construction of the new pipeline, which will run parallel to the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, last year. However, the project has been met with growing resistance from European leaders as the Baltic states grow jittery over a possible Russian intrusion in the wake of the country's annexation of Crimea in 2014.
The situation has grown increasingly tense over the past several months thanks to ongoing disputes over how to end the conflict in Syria, as well as US accusations that Russian hackers intervened in the presidential election.
Adding to the concerns is the fact that the EU imports a third of its gas from Russia, prompting fears that Brussels is becoming too reliant on Moscow for its energy supply.
In response to the renewed fears, NATO has pledged to send more forces to the Baltic states and eastern Poland. Germany confirmed it will send Leopard 2 tanks to Lithuania as part of the plan.