By Ulf Nilson, Stockholm Sept. 22, 2009

At this very moment, when president Obama just abandoned—well, drastically changed—the missile defense the U.S. planned to deploy in Poland and the Czech Republic, the armed forces of Russia are engaged in two very big war games, both pointing westward. Operation Ladoga (named for the big lake) is mostly of concern for Finland. Operation Zapad (West!) is more or less aimed at the Baltic countries, but is regarded with some suspicion in Sweden, too.
The suspicion is quite understandable for mainly two reasons. First, the forces involved are huge by Swedish standards: some 80,000 soldiers, 200 tanks and another 600 armored vehicles. The numbers should be seen against the fact that today Sweden could maybe field 30,000 badly trained infantry soldiers. As for tanks, well at the moment there are 17 (yes, seventeen!) tank crews being trained. (The figure is classified. Guess why!)
The very unpalatable truth is that Sweden, as the then supreme commander, Håkan Syrén, said a few years ago, “can not be defended."
Secondly, this is where the issue of the pipeline comes in. Preparations are already well under way for a natural gas line from Viborg in Russia to Greifswald in Germany. For almost half the way it is going to run inside Sweden’s economic zone in the Baltic. It will come extremely close to the island of Gotland. Indeed, the company that is to build the pipeline has already invested money in the port of Slite on Gotland, and this despite the fact that Sweden’s government has yet to OK the project.
What if Sweden says no, for environmental reasons (most likely) or other considerations?
Well, all we know is that a certain Mr. Putin in Moscow has repeatedly stated that the pipeline is very important AND that the Russian marine must be prepared to defend it.
“I don’t think we will go to war over the question,” a seasoned Swedish military expert said recently. If for no other reason than that we can’t go to war.
In other words, some of Sweden’s independence has been compromised. How can a government without any kind of military resources say no to a powerful and aggressive neighbor?
The same question presented itself when president Obama made clear that the U.S. will NOT build a missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic. The two Eastern European countries, both once satellites of the Soviet Union, had welcomed American presence on their soil. Now, when the U.S. has clearly bowed to Russian demands that the defense line not get built, the fall feels a good deal cooler. Given the fact that the two countries are members of NATO, there is no panic, but there is no doubt that President Obama’s move is deeply unpopular. The Eastern Europeans realize that maybe, just maybe, the U.S. will receive payment in the form of Russian help with sanctions against Iran, but of that we know nothing so far—and besides, what good will such sanctions really do?
There is, in other words, that unpleasant feeling that Russia is on the upswing, the U.S. accommodating and retreating.
It should be added that the facts presented in this article have hardly been mentioned in Swedish news media. The attitude of "see no evil, hear no evil" is deeply engrained in the Swedish psyche. We have, after all, been at peace for 200 years, so why bother? To apply for NATO membership would, of course, lead to greater security but then the Russians might see that as a truly rude move.
They might even get mad at us and we wouldn’t like that, would we?


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