Inside File: Sweden stands free to help Baltic neighbours

IN ITS attitude to the formerly Soviet-run Baltic states, Sweden as always been torn between a desire to preserve its own neutrality, and guilt over failing to stand up for its weaker neighbours.

Yet last month, recognising a more aggressive trend by Russia towards what it calls its 'near abroad', the Swedish Prime Minister, Carl Bildt, declared: 'When I have difficulty in regarding neutrality as a likely choice for Sweden in those conflicts in our near abroad that we can imagine today, it is because it imposes very strict limitations on what we can do to help, primarily politically, neighbours who need our support. And I don't think that either our interests, or the Swedish people's view of what ordinary decency requires, would speak for such a limited position.

'That was not the case during the Finnish Winter War, and it seems to me even less likely that it would be the case in our own time.'

During the Finnish Winter War in the 1940s, when Finland tried to defend territory claimed by the Soviet Union, much of the conflict was fought by the Finns with the help of Swedish volunteers, arms and planes.

Mr Bildt added: 'We no longer live in a Europe that lies in the shadow of a totalitarian superpower dictatorship. We do live in a Sweden that has become increasingly alien to what is happening in our surroundings.'

Baltic diplomats greeted the speech with jubilation. 'It was met as a very positive sign, a stronger statement than anybody else had made,' said one senior Baltic envoy. 'It constituted a cornerstone in the remaking of Swedish foreign and security policy. In the Twenties and Thirties, Sweden was very passive towards us. They didn't see us as of any significance.

'Now, here was somebody who made a statement stronger than anyone else, and who very much thought through the old things. Neighbouring countries usually understand things better. And the fact that he called us Sweden's 'near abroad' was particularly significant.'

Modern conflicts, of course, cannot be fought like the Finnish war. Swedish air force planes - part of its considerable self-defence capability - are not designed for out-of-area use across the Baltic Sea. But the Swedes can assist the Baltic states in co-ordinated arms procurement to replace what they inherited from the Warsaw Pact.

After the Cold War, and under Mr Bildt's revisionist, conser vative-led government, Sweden calls itself 'alliance-free' rather than neutral. But as Mr Bildt pointed out, 'the military non-alliance refers, with the new formula established by parliament, to the fact that 'our country should be able to remain neutral in the event of a war in our near abroad' '. It was this formula Mr Bildt went on to reject in the event of a conflict in the Baltics.

This week the Swedish Defence Minister, Anders Bjorck, declared: 'As long as developments in Russia show great uncertainties, demands for cuts in Swedish defence spending must be firmly rejected.

'What has now happened in Russia - combined with the Russian military forces near Sweden which have not been reduced - means that it is more pressing to also look into increased spending in defence.'

Whatever the practicalities, Mr Bildt's determination to protect the Baltics can be summed up in the title of a history book, published decades ago, on Sweden's forced repatriation of hundreds of Baltic refugees to Russian labour camps in 1946: It must never happen again.

FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam