Sweden’s defense strategy would be in tatters if Russian demands were met, says military chief

"The proposals for a new security order would destroy the foundations of our security policy structure."

By Niklas Pollard, Reuters - January 7, 2022
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg walks with Sweden’s Supreme Commander Micael Byden during military exercise ‘SWENEX’, at the Naval Base in Berga, Sweden on October 27, 2021. (Fredrik Sandberg / TT News Agency via Reuters)

STOCKHOLM — Sweden’s security strategy would be entirely undermined if NATO agreed to refrain from expanding further and curb some of its activity in Europe, as Russia has demanded, Sweden’s top military commander said.

The Russian demands, listed last month, have unnerved European non-NATO members including Sweden, which has strengthened ties with the alliance even if it has no plans to join at present.

Sweden’s government has since stepped up diplomatic activity, with Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson holding talks with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Friday.

“Thank you NATO SG @jensstoltenberg for our conversation on the importance of upholding the European security order and deepening the partnership between Sweden and NATO,” she said on Twitter.

Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde also met U.S. President Joe Biden’s Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer.

[Safe for now, Finland fears potential military spillover into ‘strategically important’ North]

The meetings come as General Micael Byden told daily Dagens Nyheter in comments published on Friday: “The proposals for a new security order would destroy the foundations of our security policy structure.”

“We aim to become a stronger defense power in all categories and develop overall defense. But that hinges on developed international cooperation,” the commander said.

NATO diplomats have said Russia cannot have a veto on further expansion of the alliance and NATO has the right to decide its own military posture.

Moscow says the demands are essential for lowering tensions in Europe and defusing a crisis over Ukraine, which Western countries have accused Russia of sizing up for a potential invasion after building up troops near the border. Russia has denied planning an invasion.

Among the demands are ruling out further NATO expansion and Ukraine’s accession to the alliance and abandoning any NATO military activities in Ukraine, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia.

On Thursday, after talks with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, Andersson said Europe’s security order was non-negotiable. “In Sweden, we ourselves decide over our foreign and security policy and who we cooperate with.”

Additional reporting by Anna Ringstrom.