It happened earlier – in April 1808 during the Finnish war, the Russian army invaded the Swedish island of Gotland with 1,800 men. Three and a half weeks later, 2,000 Swedish marines landed and liberated Gotland and the Russians withdrew.
However, the end result of the Finnish war, which lasted for 1 1/2 years, meant that Sweden lost, in addition to other regions, Finland, which later became an independent Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire. In fact, the so-called Finnish war was in fact another Swedish-Russian war; to be even more precise, it had been the 11th such war since the Swedish-Novgorodian war, which occurred during the 12th and 13th centuries.
Flashback completed, fast-forward 214 years: Swedish media publish pictures of tanks on the streets of Gotland’s capital Visby, with an island population of almost 60,000 inhabitants. What happens?
330 kilometers from the naval base
International commentators quickly jumped on the story, which saw the light of day on Thursday. Interestingly, it was Russia Today that came up with a catchy title that read “Tanks on European streets due to ‘Russian threat'” – readers kindly note the two quotes before and after “Russian threat”. Other media copied and pasted the article, but with a twist: BigNewsNetwork went public by declaring “Thoughts on European streets due to Russian threat.” The former questioned the threat from Russia, the latter announced the development as if there was a guaranteed Russian threat. So much for objective reporting.
What is guaranteed, however, is that all potential international movements and commitments from Moscow have recently been examined more than under normal circumstances, and it is all about the situation in and around Ukraine.
Before we discuss this further, let us quickly summarize why Gotland is of strategic interest in the first place. The island is located 90 kilometers (56 miles) from the Swedish east coasts and 130 kilometers from its nearest foreign neighbor, Latvia. Still, the figure that really means 330 – Gotland is 330 kilometers from Kaliningrad, home to Russia’s impressive navy in the Baltic Sea, a short distance by all accounts.
Referring to the Russian tension, a Swedish military spokesman was quoted as saying: “The effort should be seen as part of Sweden adapting its strategy to the tense situation between Russia and Ukraine, which has been grabbing media headlines for several months. The United States and its NATO allies “Russian troops will invade neighboring Ukraine as early as January or February. Moscow has dismissed the statements as false news.”
Sweden’s Minister of Defense Peter Hultqvist answered questions from a reporter from Agence France-Presse (AFP) that Swedish forces are taking the necessary measures to guarantee Sweden’s integrity and to show the forces’ capabilities. The news agency TT went on to quote the minister that Sweden would take the situation seriously.
But had it happened that Stockholm felt a need to show off its strength and military power? What triggered such an unprecedented move despite the fact that a new regiment was stationed on Gotland in 2018, the first such new regiment deployed by Sweden since the end of World War II?
Russia moves ships
At stake: Moscow’s decision to move three of its heavy landing craft from the Barents Sea in the Arctic Ocean to the Baltic Sea. The German tabloid Bild, not shy about simple reporting, tried to summarize the public mood in Sweden by announcing that Stockholm, according to an anonymous government official, is on standby if Russian President Vladimir Putin uses the three landing ships to invade Gotland. Should Putin plan anything against the Baltic countries, he must, according to the official, first take Gotland.
Fair enough, a leading tabloid magazine has to address issues in a format other than a major broadsheet, but what’s so interesting here is the underlying verbal flow, the overall sales of news once again that may or may not be true. This in turn stirs the feelings of the public and who would be surprised if it stirs up anti-Russian feelings; let’s be honest, how many average newspaper readers invest a few more hours after reading a brief summary by searching for facts and figures themselves?
In fact, the three landing ships were relocated. The fiction is that they were sent there to invade Sweden’s Gotland – at least from today’s perspective.
On NATO and pipelines
Lieutenant General Michael Claesson, head of Joint Operations at the Swedish Armed Forces, was quoted as saying by a Reuters article: required. “
And now the picture becomes more blurred. Stockholm is changing tactics and asking NATO to get more involved in the region, maybe even one day join the alliance with which it works closely?
Can Moscow be worried about exactly such a development?
And that is a completely different dimension we must take into account. After a global health situation that lasted for almost two years, some geopolitical actors may want to fill the void created by growing unrest among the population due to ongoing shutdowns and other restrictions in many places by returning to the world politics stage by acting the strong man. It is not unlikely that in order to gather the voters behind them, a number of hardline politicians can say look, we survived COVID-19, let’s now play a strategic monopoly.
But any modern leader would engage in foresight analysis and clearly define and understand the connection between action and reaction.
Relocating landing craft in the Baltic Sea is one thing, parading tanks on Gotland is another. Both sides will have understood the intended message on both sides. To ensure that there is no further escalation, only diplomacy can reduce tensions.
Will there be another Swedish-Russian war? Of course, not even the players analyze the situation carefully and weigh all the options. What is much more interesting in this context and to conclude: Who, if anyone, would be interested in arousing tensions between Sweden and Russia? Who would benefit? Very geopolitical (pipeline) thinker.
And one last friendly reminder to colleagues abroad who not only comment on the political saber race but reinforce it: When a crisis breaks out, responsible journalism demands an objective and sometimes distant, neutral position. Not distanced as in “we do not care”, but in a sense of listening to all sides and then drawing conclusions. Words are important in international relations as they are in our own profession. Verbal warfare in the media can lead to verbal warfare among the public and a further increase in xenophobia and racism and radicalization, which some are trying to sell us as nothing more than “populism”. “Russian plans to invade Gotland” is a perfect example.