DN - Defence Notes

Sweden and Finland say Russia has 'false' defence information

3rd August 2018 - 19:21 GMT | by ​Agence France-Presse in Stockholm

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Sweden and Finland, both non-NATO countries, have called Russia's recent comments on their defence cooperation with the Western alliance ‘false’ amid simmering tensions in the Baltic Sea region.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on 24 July said that NATO received ‘unhindered access’ to Sweden and Finland's airspace and territorial waters in exchange for allowing the two nations to ‘fully participate’ in the alliance's military exercises, according to the TASS state news agency.

Sweden's Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist told Swedish Radio on 3 August, echoing similar comments by Finland's defence ministry in the week of 23 July: ‘What is described by the Russian defence minister is false. NATO does not have unlimited access to Finnish and Swedish territorial waters and airspace. A special permission is required for any state-owned ship and aircraft to enter our territory.’

Finland in the week of 23 July said Shoigu's comments had ‘a number of inaccuracies and factual errors,’ noting that the country ‘does not participate fully in NATO exercises.’

Shoigu was referring to a trilateral statement of intent signed in May by Sweden, Finland and the US. The document claims to be legally non-binding and aims ‘to support a stable and secure environment in the Baltic Sea region’.

But Shoigu claimed it gives Stockholm and Helsinki ‘the possibility to use (NATO's) command systems for the control of troops and weapons.’

Shoigu said: ‘Such steps by our Western colleagues lead to the destruction of the existing world security system.’

Finland as well as Sweden denied his claims saying they do not have ‘full access to NATO's command-and-control system.’

Sweden and Finland – the Nordic and Baltic region's only non-aligned countries – have recently stepped up their military cooperation with the US.

The region has seen an increase in Russian military activity, including several airspace violations and war planes allegedly flying without their identifying transponders.

In recent years, concerns have risen about Russia's intentions in the region – with alarms bells ringing after Moscow's annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.

In June 2015, US think tank Cepa published a report claiming Russia had held exercises with 33,000 troops aimed at practising an invasion of Sweden's Baltic Sea island of Gotland, among other sites.

Sweden has resumed military activities on Gotland. It also reintroduced compulsory military service in 2018, seven years after it was abolished.

The first group of 19 recruits were called in for military training on 30 July, Swedish Radio reported, adding that 4,000 soldiers would be trained in 2018.

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