Confidential

Russia’s Threat to Sweden in the Next 24 Months

Russia’s threat to Sweden has become more and more real in the last months. This is mainly due to Sweden’s ambition to join NATO.

In the past years, the relationship between Sweden and Russia has not been stable. On the one hand, Sweden published its Arctic policy in 2020. It focuses on climate change and international cooperation, which also includes Russia.

On the other hand, in October 2020, Sweden announced an increase in military spending by 40% over five years. This is due to the Russian presence and activity in the Baltic Sea. In December 2021, Russia threatened Sweden, threatening with political and military consequences if Sweden joins NATO. Lastly, Sweden has condemned Russia’s invasion and strengthened its desire to join NATO as early as May 2022. Furthermore, it started supporting Ukraine with military and humanitarian aid.

Key Judgment 1: In the next 24 months, Sweden will strengthen its relationship with Western countries. Consequently, it is highly likely that it will join NATO.

  • At the end of December 2021, Russia threatened both Sweden and Finland in the event that they would join NATO. Moscow said that there would be “serious military and political repercussions”. In the past, Sweden carried out military exercises with NATO. However, it did not want to join the international organisation. This is because it feared that it would limit its decisional independence.

  • In February 2022, an SVT poll, a Swedish public broadcaster, showed that 35% of Swedes opposed NATO membership. On the other hand, 41% supported it. However, the percentage of the population that would like Sweden to join NATO is likely to grow, since Sweden is condemning Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Even though some political parties, such as the Social Democrats, are still against NATO membership, it is clear that the Russian invasion of Ukraine changed the whole security setting of Europe and especially the Baltic region. On the 15th of May, the Swedish Prime Minister and other leading members are meeting to discuss the issue, and whether join or not NATO.

Key Judgment 2: In the next 24 months, it is highly unlikely that Russia will attack Sweden, despite the recent threats.

  • In the past years, Sweden secured closed military cooperation with Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Sweden is now helping Ukraine with humanitarian, military, and technical support. It imposed sanctions against Russia, following the European Union, and it also banned Russian aircraft from its airspace.
Russia's threat to Sweden
Swedish Minister of Defence, Peter Hultqvist, US Secretary of Defence, Jim Mattis, and Finnish Minister of Defence, Jussi Niinistö, at the Pentagon signing a new trilateral agreement.

Despite Sweden does not interpret Russia’s words as a military threat, it started boosting its military presence in Gotland and other key areas in the country. The militarisation started immediately after, six Russian Amphibious Warfare ships entered the Baltic Sea, in mid-January. Even though the ships left the area a couple of days later, Swedish troops are remaining in place. In the case of a hypothetic Russian attack, Sweden would be able to contrast the first wave of attacks.

Key Judgment 3: In the next 24 months, it is highly likely that Russia will keep threatening Sweden by cyber attacking structures and facilities.

  • Last year, after three years of investigations, the Swedish prosecutors found out that between December 2017 and May 2018 the Russian GRU military intelligence hacked the national sports federation in Sweden. The “Fancy Bear” group, which is a Russian hacking group controlled by the GRU, according to the US intelligence agencies, is responsible for the data security breaches. The “Fancy Bear” stole and then published personal details, medical records, and records of doping tests of Swedish athletes.

  • In January 2021, large drones were seen flying over the royal family palace in Drottningholm, two airports, Kiruna and Lulea, and three nuclear plants, Oskarshamn, Ringhals and Forsmark, in Sweden. The military style of the drones and their coordination suggest that there could be a state government behind it. A Russian man was arrested for flying a drone on the royal family palace. However, there are no suspects for the others. Moscow’s involvement could be taken into consideration since the accident happened after the Russian threats were sent to Sweden. It is highly likely that this was not an attack, but a Russian attempt to spread fear among the population. The Swedish intelligence agency took over the investigation. However, there is no evidence that a foreign power is behind these actions.

Key Judgment 4: In the next 24 months, It is highly likely that Russia will keep spreading disinformation in Sweden, in order to weaken Sweden’s relationship with NATO.

  • In the past years, Sweden has been the subject of a Russian disinformation campaign. Russian aim is to intimidate and threaten Sweden and increase polarisation which would then lead to Sweden moving away from NATO. Russia has been targeting Swedish news organisations, in order to prevent and contrast a hypothetical NATO membership.

  • Even before the Russian invasion, Putin and his government started stating that Ukraine was killing many Russians in Donetsk and Luhansk regions. This was done in order to depict Ukraine as the enemy and the aggressor. After the invasion, the disinformation campaign intensified. For example, various pro-Russia accounts started spreading fake videos on Ukraine and its actions on Telegram.

Intelligence cut-off date: 6th of May 2022

Author

Rachele Momi

Rachele Momi is a graduate in Intelligence & Security Studies at Brunel University and in Middle East Politics at SOAS. Her research is mainly focused on the Middle East region, tradecraft, and defence issues.

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