The Swedish military has announced plans to hold its “first and largest” wargames in over 20 years, involving all of the country’s military branches along with forces from several NATO
The drills, dubbed Aurora 17, are set to be carried out in September and designed to enhance Sweden
’s defense capabilities and establish a “credible and visible” deterrent that would force any potential enemies “to carefully consider the risks of attacking our country,” said a statement by the Swedish Armed Forces, RT reported.
According to the statement, “Several other countries,” mostly members of the US-led NATO military alliance, were invited to take part in the maneuvers to enhance “Sweden’s defense capability against a larger, sophisticated opponent,” in an apparent reference to Russia.
Nearly 19,000 soldiers from Sweden’s all military branches are expected to participate in the drills, which will be carried out in the air, on land and at sea, the report added.
Military units from NATO member countries such as Denmark, Estonia, France, Lithuania, Norway and the US, as well as from non-aligned Finland, will also join the exercise, added the statement by the armed forces of Sweden, which is not a member of the military alliance itself.
According to the report, the major training areas for the maneuver will be in the southeastern Stockholm-Maelaren region and the Gothenburg area, as well as on and around the island of Gotland, near the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.
The development comes as commander of the US army forces in Europe, Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, openly announced this week that Sweden’s increased military activity is in reaction to Russia’s growing “assertiveness.”
“Russia has changed the security environment,” Hodges stated Sunday in an interview with Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, adding that “we have to react to that, and not just the US, but the whole of NATO.”
“The fact that Sweden decided that they have to put troops back on Gotland is a very clear indication of what’s going on. Sweden is known as moderate, credible and alliance free. Nevertheless, Sweden felt that this was necessary,” he added.
This is while the Swedish military announced plans in June to replace all of its aging air defense systems and potentially purchase US-made Patriot missiles, citing an alleged threat from Russian Iskander-M missile systems stationed in Kaliningrad.
Meanwhile, Russia has repeatedly expressed concern over Sweden’s growing military activities and its closer cooperation with NATO.
Russian President Vladimir Putin warned in early June that Moscow will need to take additional security measures if the Scandinavian country decided to join the alliance.
“If Sweden joins NATO, that will affect our [bilateral] relations in a negative way,” Putin stated at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, noting that Moscow would regard the move as “an additional threat.”