The Gotland regiment of the Swedish Army was going through its paces, practicing how to use its Swedish-designed lightweight anti-tank missiles, the NLAWs, that are proving so effective in Ukraine.
The regiment, which was resurrected in 2018 on this strategic island that helps control the air and naval space of the Baltic Sea, is in the process of rebuilding with the aim of expanding to 4,000 soldiers from the current 400 — still a far cry from the 25,000 that served here during the Cold War.
In a major recalculation of its security posture precipitated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Sweden is relearning how to be a military power. And pulled along by its strategic partner, Finland, it is about to apply to join NATO, ending more than 200 years of neutrality and military nonalignment.
The new commander of the Gotland regiment, Col. Magnus Frykvall, has a clear view of this mission to rebuild Sweden’s defenses, as well as the importance of the island his regiment is guarding. “If you own Gotland, you can control sea and air movement in the whole of the south Baltics,” he said.
To join NATO is a political decision, Colonel Frykvall, 47, said, but he favors it. “Cooperation is one thing, but an alliance is something else,” he said. “An alliance means you have guarantees.”
A parliamentary report presented on Friday by Sweden’s foreign minister, Ann Linde, said that its membership in NATO, alongside Finland, would have a deterrent effect in northern Europe, although the analysis also cautioned that retaliatory measures from Russia could not be ruled out in the transition period if Sweden applies for membership in the alliance.
One of Colonel Frykvall’s troops, Pvt. Sara Karlsson, 20, an artillery specialist, said that “every soldier here now feels that we’re making a difference, and I feel it in my colleagues too, a new sense of responsibility.”
The world is dangerous, and there is always a war somewhere, she said. “But Ukraine is not far from Gotland, and we can feel it.”
If Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 was a quiet wake-up call, its bloody, full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February was a five-alarm fire.
“We had our dream and now it’s time to wake up,” said Robert Dalsjo, director of studies at the Swedish Defense Research Agency. “The dream is ended.” [Continue reading…]