Neutral Sweden, the biggest war exercise in 20 years with NATO support, with 19,000 troops, after years of spending cuts that left the country, began to worry about Russia’s growing military strength.
On the eve of the biggest Russian exercise since 2013, NATO says it will have more soldiers than Moscow announced, with 13,000 troops, Sweden is conducting maneuvers simulating an attack from the east on the Baltic island of Gotland near the Swedish mainland.
“The security situation has taken a turn for the worse,” Swedish armed forces chief Michael Biden said during the three-week exercise. Sweden, such as the Baltic states, Poland and many Western countries, has been deeply concerned by Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian Crimea in the Black Sea in 2014 and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.
“Russia is the country that is affecting security in Europe now because of its actions, the annexation of the Crimea and the continuing battles in eastern Ukraine,” Biden said. “So obviously we are closely watching what Russia is doing.” About 1,500 troops from the United States, France, Norway and other NATO countries are participating in the so-called “Twilight” exercise. Non-NATO member Sweden has decided to strengthen its armed forces after spending has fallen to about 1 percent after it accounted for more than two percent of economic output in the early 1990s and began to reintroduce the compulsory recruitment system. NATO generals said the exercises were not a response to Russian maneuvers, which begin on Thursday