NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced plans to boost the 28-member military bloc’s presence in the Nordic region during a visit to the Swedish capital Stockholm on Tuesday amid increasing instances of aggressive behaviour by Russia.
Speaking to reporters, the 56-year-old former Norwegian prime minister, who has been in charge of NATO after taking over from Anders Fogh Rasmussen last year, said the decision had been taken in response to Russia’s use of "force to change the borders of Ukraine".
“To respond effectively we all have to adapt,” Stoltenberg said. “Our focus is collective defence, but also crisis management and cooperative security.”
"NATO does not seek confrontation with Russia. We are looking for cooperation and dialogue, but that cooperation must be based on predictability and strength."
In June, Viktor Tatarintsev, the Russian ambassador to Sweden reportedly warned the country that it would face military “consequences” if it decides to join NATO.
Since 1814, Sweden has maintained an official policy of neutrality in foreign affairs, including throughout both world wars. At the end of the Cold War, Sweden became a member of the European Union but did not join NATO.
However, Sweden participates in two other military alliances: The Nordic Defense Cooperation (NORDEFCO) and the EU Nordic Battlegroup.
Swedish Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist announced in June that Sweden is extending its military presence at its borders and increasing the number of exercises it is undertaking with NATO due to concerns over a Russian military resurgence.
The announcement came after a report named The Coming Storm, published by the senior vice-president of the US-based Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) Edward Lucas, claimed Russia “rehearsed the invasion and occupation of the Baltic region with 33,000 soldiers from March 21 to March 25.”
— CEPA (@cepa) June 23, 2015
The report said that Russia rehearsed the invasion of not only Sweden’s east coast island of Gotland, but also Danish island Bornholm and Finland’s Swedish speaking Aland island as well as northern Norway.
In March, Russia held a five-day military drill which included approximately 40,000 servicemen, 41 warships, 15 submarines and 110 aircraft in the Arctic.
Nordic and Baltic countries have been on standby for a possible Russian intervention in Europe since Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in March 2014.
Earlier this year, the Russian navy was accused of deliberately chasing away a Swedish vessel while it was being deployed to the Baltic Sea to lay a 400-kilometer undersea power cable between Lithuania and Sweden.
Last year, Sweden took part in a large military operation in waters off Stockholm to search for “foreign underwater activity,” widely speculated to be caused by a damaged Russian submarine, in what might have been the gravest violation of Sweden’s maritime sovereignty since the Cold War.
A similar incident took place in May, when Finland was forced to fire a number of warning shots on a suspected Russian submarine that entered its waters without permission near its capital Helsinki.
Meanwhile, Poland has expressed concern over Russian plans to place missiles in its Kaliningrad enclave on the Baltic Sea, against which Poland currently has no defences, and is now in talks to purchase eight missile batteries from the US by 2025.
Defence representatives from Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Finland, Denmark and Baltic states are arriving Sweden to participate in a regularly-held two-day NORDEFCO meeting, in which they are likely to discuss the Russian threat. Officials from Poland and the UK are also expected to attend.
The Russian ambassador to Denmark, Mikhail Vanin, also recently warned Denmark not to pursue its interest in NATO's missile defence system, telling the Jyllands-Posten newspaper in March that such a move would make Danish warships a target for Russian nuclear missiles.
Such talk led Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Iceland to issue a joint statement earlier this month calling for increased cooperation in the field of defence between Nordic countries in the face of the Russian “challenge.”
In response, Russia said improved ties between Sweden, Finland and NATO were a cause for “special concern.”
Amid the ongoing crisis, Finland’s military unit in May called on close to one million reservists to inform them of their responsibilities.
Norway has also been on alert to the Russian threat posed in the wake of increasing Russian military activity near its shores, with Defence Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide announcing plans to increase the defence budget by around half a billion dollars to modernise its army.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg announced that Norway will contribute to NATO’s international network of radar stations and anti-ballistic missile barrages after a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Oslo in June.