Russia reaps whirlwind with massive Swedish defense spending boost

As “a consequence of Russia’s actions,” Sweden will increase defense spending by 40% over the next four years.

An astonishing increase by the standards of a normally welfare-state-minded Scandinavian state, Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist says “the largest increase in defense capability in 70 years” is necessary because “an attack on Sweden can’t be ruled out.” Hultqvist was explicit.

A Russian attack, he said, would involve the “liquidation” of senior civilian and military leaders and “intensive combat activities.” Hultqvist’s assessment fits with Russian war planning, which involves the assassination of foreign officials as a means to degrading enemy command and control networks, spreading confusion, and creating space and time for Russian offensives.

The new spending proves how badly Russia’s effort to intimidate Sweden has backfired.

While Sweden is a NATO partner, it is not a member state. Buffered between Finland, and a NATO member state, Norway, Sweden is not a natural Russian target. Had Russia shown a little more respect for Sweden’s security concerns, this defense boost would likely never have happened. Vladimir Putin should have simply left the Swedes alone. But he hasn’t done that. Instead, the Russian Air Force and Navy have spent the past few years sending submarines and bombers right up to, and likely inside, Sweden’s sovereign territory. Alongside increasing Russian cyber-attacks, even Stockholm’s center-left government recognized a shift in strategy was needed.

This is no small concern for the Kremlin. Sweden’s defensive upgrade will pose complications for Russia in two key areas.

First, it will strengthen Sweden’s maritime projection power in the Baltic Sea. This will include the permanent deployment of a new infantry force to Gotland Island. This is bad news for Russian war planning on the European continent. After all, were Russia to move to sever the Baltic NATO states from the rest of the alliance (its most likely rationale for attacking NATO), it would have to deny NATO maritime and air movement through the Baltic Sea. But with more Swedish intelligence, strike, and defensive assets now set to move into that area, Russia’s freedom of action will be restrained. At the very least, Russia will have to divert more resources to counter Swedish contingencies.

Yet, considering Sweden’s explicit identification of Russia as the motivating force for this defense buildup, we should also expect increased cooperation with NATO. Sweden is very likely, for example, to purchase advanced area denial weapons such as its neighbor Norway’s Naval Strike Missile. Putin will worry that a more formal NATO relationship is coming soon.

This is not to say that all is good for NATO in the Baltic battlespace. As recent Russian air antics have proven, the alliance’s air defense command appears to be sleeping on the job. Still, Sweden’s decision to stand in its own defense is worthy of praise. NATO members such as Belgium and Germany should take notice.

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