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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones