I was a bit ashamed of myself last fall, when talking with an Estonian national-security expert. He spoke of “Swedish troop movements” — and I smiled. Because the phrase seemed so odd to me. Sweden was once a power, but, in my lifetime, it has been a military nothing.
Vladimir Putin’s Russia is changing that. Unceasingly, Russian forces spook and unnerve the Baltic and other states, with military exercises and maneuvers. They have rehearsed the invasion of their neighbors.
“What’s it like to see that?” I asked Janis Kazocins, a Latvian national-security official. He said, “It’s very unpleasant.” (Kazocins grew up in England and has the British understatement.)
In addition to the Baltic states, Putin’s forces have rehearsed the invasion of all the Scandinavian states, plus Finland. They simulated a nuclear attack on Bornholm, the Danish island in the Baltic Sea. Their timing was slick: The simulation took place on the day of Bornholm’s annual festival, when Denmark’s entire political leadership was gathered.
The Swedes have moved troops back to their own Baltic island, Gotland. That is what my Estonian interlocutor meant by “troop movements.” Now they have reintroduced conscription, as you can read in this report, published this morning.
After Putin huddled with the Hungarian leader, Viktor Orbán, in Budapest the other week, Orbán said, “We all sense — it’s in the air — that the world is in the process of a substantial realignment.” Many are thrilled with this realignment. Many look on it with great concern.
One thing I have learned is not to smile or smirk or wonder when someone utters that weird phrase “Swedish troop movements.”