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International Internet Magazine. Baltic States news & analytics Monday, 21.01.2019, 14:09

Increased regional tensions in the Baltic Sea

Karin Enström, Deputy Chair Foreign Affairs Committee Swedish Parliament Former Minister for Defence Sweden, Baltic Rim Economies ISSUE # 3, 08.11.2017.Print version
Common cultural, historical, political and economic ties link the Baltic, the Nordic countries and the other countries around the Baltic Sea together. The Baltic and Nordic countries have enjoyed ongoing cooperation since early 1990s. In 2009, the cooperation took further steps when the Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region, EUSBSR, was adopted. The focus of the strategy is clean and safe shipping, reliable energy markets and better cooperation in fighting cross-border crime. The countries around the Baltic Sea share an interest in the provision of stability, security and welfare in the Baltic Sea region and beyond.

However, as the security policy situation in the world has continued to change for the worse, this is also the case for the Baltic Sea region. As a result, Sweden needs to strengthen and deepen its cooperation with the countries around the Baltic Sea to stabilize the region. We must also strengthen the Swedish security and defence capabilities through a Swedish NATO membership and by strengthening our defences.


For nearly 25 years, states in the European security system treated each other as sovereign equals and respected each other’s independence. With its illegal annexation of Crimea and its ill masked aggressive action in eastern Ukraine, Russia has torn a hole in the fabric of European security. Russia’s actions in Ukraine are a fundamental violation of the core principles of the security of Europe. The present situation in Russia is worrying and very troublesome. As the Russian defence reform has been implemented, the pattern of Russian military exercises in our region has changed. They have become more and more complex and have been carried out in a more aggressive manner which leads to confrontations with almost all countries around the Baltic Sea. Russian aircraft activity along NATO’s border has increased. In 2014 and 2015, NATO fighters went up to meet Russian aircraft more than 400 times, an increase of 70 percent from 2013. The pressure is particularly hard on Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. This fall, Russia is likely to violate the 2011 Vienna Document by conducting several other exercises simultaneously outside the joint strategic exercise Zapad 2017 with Belarus. This will raise troop numbers substantially above 13 000 and has been done so in the past. Another big cause of concern is Russia’s rhetoric regarding its nuclear weapons. According to Swedish researchers, Russian rhetoric on nuclear weapons has reached levels unthinkable even during the height of the Cold War. Moreover, Russia has maintained and developed its arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons, i.e. smaller nuclear weapons suited for use on the battlefield, unlike the strategic ones intended to erase major targets, for instance, cities.


The tactical nuclear missiles are no news. In a recent report, The Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI) writes that NATO and The US also have retained their tactical nuclear weapons. The big change is Russia’s policy. The importance of tactical nuclear weapons in Russia has increased. A large number of Russian military units have weapon systems that can be equipped with tactical nuclear warheads. In the military doctrine, Russia reserves itself the right to carry out preventive nuclear strikes if the country’s existence is threatened. Russia also reserves itself the right to face conventional attacks with nuclear weapons. Due to Russia’s actions, the importance of Sweden’s military strategic position has increased. On the Baltic Sea, important trade routes go to and from all countries in the region. The Baltic Sea is also an important arena for receiving and providing military assistance. We must therefore continue to deepen Nordic cooperation in the security policy area. We must also cooperate more between the Nordic-Baltic countries both bilaterally and multilaterally within the EU and the UN. Cooperation is needed in other areas as well. My party strongly supports increased trade and energy cooperation in Europe and the European energy union but not at the cost of deteriorating security and increased dependence on Russia. The gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 goes against the principles of the energy union and would result in an increased European dependence of Russian gas. Sweden and its neighboring countries must put pressure on the EU Commission to stop Nord Stream 2. When the situation in the Baltic Sea is becoming more insecure, Sweden must seek further cooperation with the countries in our immediate vicinity. The importance of the Baltic Sea for trade and other issues such as the environment in the region cannot be emphasized enough. Sweden needs to strengthen the security policy cooperation with the countries around the Baltic Sea in order to restore the stability in the region. At the same time, we must strengthen Swedish defence capability through a Swedish NATO membership and by strengthening the Swedish defence.

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