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After 200 years of neutrality, Sweden weighs joining Nato

The Gotland regiment of the Swedish army was going through its paces, practising how to use its Swedish-designed lightweight anti-tank missiles, the NLAWs that are proving so effective in Ukraine.

The regiment, which was resurrected in 2018 on this strategic island that helps control the air and naval space of the Baltic Sea, is in the process of rebuilding with the aim of expanding to 4,000 soldiers from the current 400 — still a far cry from the 25,000 that served here during the Cold War.

In a major recalculation of its security posture precipitated by the Russian war of Ukraine, Sweden is relearning how to be a military power. And pulled along by its strategic partner, Finland, it is about to apply to join Nato, ending more than 200 years of neutrality and military non-alignment.

The new commander of the Gotland regiment, Col Magnus Frykvall, has a clear view of this mission to rebuild Sweden’s defences, as well as the importance of the island his regiment is guarding. “If you own Gotland, you can control sea and air movement in the whole of the south Baltics,’’ he said.

A parliamentary report presented by Sweden’s foreign minister, Ann Linde, said its membership in Nato, alongside Finland, would have a deterrent effect in northern Europe, although the analysis also cautioned that retaliatory measures from Russia could not be ruled out in the transition period if Sweden applies for membership in the alliance.

Sentiment in Finland, having fought two wars against the Soviet Union, has swung massively in the past six months in favour of joining Nato, guided by Sauli Niinisto, its president.

But in Sweden, the debate is more of a psychodrama within the ruling Social Democratic Party, with Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson ruling out Nato membership for Sweden as late as March 8, after the Russian war. But by mid-April, her position had evolved.

The Swedish public has followed along, with 52 per cent now favouring joining Nato, especially if Finland joins, up from about 27 per cent before the war.

On Sunday, after discussions with members from all 26 of the country’s districts, the Social Democrats will announce their decision, said Kenneth G Forslund, a member of the party executive and chair of the Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Relations. The consensus is that the party will reluctantly back joining Nato alongside Finland.

The New York Times

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