Sweden, NATO allies launch biggest military exercise in 23yrs amid ‘Russian threat’

Monday, September 11, 2017
By Paul Martin

11 Sep, 2017

Sweden has launched its largest military exercise in 23 years, with several NATO countries taking part. The drills come just before the Russia-Belarus Zapad 2017 exercises, which involve fewer troops, but stir much more controversy.

The Aurora 17 drills, set to take place over the course of three weeks, involve a scenario in which Stockholm and the crucial island of Gotland are under attack by a foreign military.

“If you control Gotland, you have control over the sea and the airways towards the Baltic states,” Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist told the Financial Times on Friday, referring to the island which is located not too far from the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

The massive exercise will include 20,000 troops, 90 percent of whom are Swedish. The drills will see almost half of the country’s armed forces “on the move,” according to an organizing officer cited by Newsweek.

Around 2,000 foreign troops are also taking part in the drills, more than 1,400 of whom are from the US, according to Sydöstran newspaper. NATO members Denmark, Estonia, France, Lithuania, and Norway are also participating, as well as non-aligned Finland.

Hultqvist says the United States’ participation in the drills is a “statement of intent,” noting that there is “a need for US presence in this region.”

According to the Swedish military, the drills are designed “to deter potential attackers, and force them to carefully consider the risks of attacking our country,” AP reported.

“It’s about handling the realities of the security situation in our part of Europe. It’s an important signal to the Swedish population and also to other countries and partners that we take this security situation seriously,” Hultqvist said.

It comes after the Swedish Armed Forces wrote in a July statement that “several other countries” had been invited to take part in the drills to enhance “Sweden’s defense capability against a larger, sophisticated opponent,” in what appeared to be a reference to Russia.

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