Published On: Thu, Sep 14th, 2017

Sweden holds biggest war games for 20 YEARS amid Russia fears | World | News

The Scandinavian country has started exercises for 19,000 troops while Russia prepares to make its biggest manoeuvres since 2013.

Sweden will simulate an attack from the east on the Baltic island of Gotland, near the Swedish mainland, as part of an exercise lasting three weeks.

It comes amid growing concerns from NATO over Moscow’s upcoming drills in eastern Europe, which officials fear will involve far more than the 13,000 soldiers reported and could even result in a land grab.

Micael Byden, the commander of the Swedish Armed Forces, said: “The security situation has taken a turn for the worse.”

He added: “Russia is the country that affects security in Europe right now with its actions – the annexation of the Crimea and continued battles in eastern Ukraine – so it is clear that we are watching very closely what Russia is doing.”

Around 1,500 troops from the US, France, Norway and other NATO allies are also taking part in the exercise, dubbed Aurora.

Sweden, which is not a member of NATO, is beefing up its military after having let spending drop and is reintroducing conscription.

The armed forces, which at one point could mobilise more than 600,000, is now comprised of just 20,000 troops with an additional 22,000 Home Guard volunteers.

NATO generals say the Aurora exercise is not a response to Russian exercises that start on Thursday.

But General Byden, speaking as US and French forces displayed mobile surface-to-air missile systems to be deployed during the exercise, stressed the importance of NATO for Sweden.

He said: ”We are a sovereign country that takes care of and is responsible for our safety. We do this together with others, ready to both support and receive help.”

The US shipped vehicles by sea from Germany, while France brought others by train. They are to be moved to Sweden’s east coast via a secret route for the exercise where US attack helicopters will play the enemy during Aurora.

The drills come as Moscow prepares to carry out a range of military exercises in Belarus, the Baltic Sea and the west of the country over the coming days.

NATO believes the drills could involve around 100,000 troops and include nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.

Some Western officials have speculated the drills could be used as a “Trojan horse” to make incursions into Poland and Russian-speaking regions in the Baltics.

Lithuania’s Defence Minister Raimundas Karoblis has also voiced concerns that Russia’s drills risk triggering an accidental conflict or could allow Moscow to leave troops in neighbouring Belarus.

The US has sent tanks and military equipment from to Gdansk in Poland to increase the NATO presence in eastern Europe as a counter-operation to the Russian moves. 

The build-up, part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, has been described as NATO’s largest reinforcement in eastern Europe since the Cold War.

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