Wooden targets hide among the pine trees at the Gotland island army firing range, silhouettes depicting foreign invaders, their faces twisted with malice.
They bear no unit insignia, no flag patches. But the Swedish army recruits peppering the targets with machine-gun fire this fall knew exactly who the enemy was: Russia’s 76th Guards Air Assault Division.
With Russia’s foreign policy growing more assertive over the past decade under President Vladimir Putin, the Swedes are bulking up defenses on Gotland. Its army expects that in the opening moments of a Russian invasion, airborne soldiers from the 76th Guards, based across the Baltic Sea, would likely parachute onto Gotland. Both sides know that whoever controls the island controls naval traffic through the southern Baltic.
“We will never surrender,” said Daniel Martell, sergeant major of Sweden’s Gotland Regiment. “That’s the message we’re sending.”
The Cold War is back on in the frigid North.
Russia’s expansive military and political appetites are alarming countries along the former frontiers of the Soviet Union, from Finland to Romania. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has deployed four battle groups—nearly 5,000 troops—to Poland and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. In 2018, Norway hosted NATO’s largest military exercise since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Sweden’s response is especially dramatic, overturning decades of its own defense and foreign policy. While the country maintained a careful neutrality between the U.S. and Soviet Union during the Cold War, this time around Stockholm is tightening ties with Washington. This fall, the Swedes rubbed that partnership in Moscow’s face by spotlighting joint U.S.-Swedish commando exercises previously kept secret.
“We no longer can rule out a military attack on Sweden,” said Karin Olofsdotter, Sweden’s ambassador in Washington. “It’s not likely in any way, but it can’t be ruled out.”
Last month, Sweden’s parliament authorized the biggest increase in military spending in 70 years, including a 50% expansion of the country’s armed forces, to 90,000 troops in 2025 from 60,000 today. In 2018, the army resurrected its Cold War-era Gotland Regiment, which had been deactivated in 2005, and now the troops regularly train to repel Russian invaders. The army plans to add another battalion, artillery units and logistical capabilities to its forces on the island.
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