Two European countries near Russia, including one that borders Russia, are combining parts of their military forces.
The Swedish government announced on October 29th that it will create a joint naval battle group with the Finnish Defence Forces.
Finland borders Russia to its northeast, while Sweden has seen recent Russian military violations of its territory — most notably by a possible Russian submarine in October of 2014.
The new battle group, known as the Swedish Finnish Naval Task Force (SFNTG), is envisioned as a cost-effective way for the two nations to conduct joint crisis response operations in the Arctic and the surrounding regions.
According to Defence News, the SFNTG will be staffed by troops trained to operate within the region’s climatic extremes. The task force will “conduct sea surveillance, exercises and include combined units,” Defence News reports. “It would share infrastructure and be able to transfer operational control of units between the Swedish and Finnish navies.”
Finewire also notes that the SFNTG will be interoperable with NATO units and the militaries of NATO countries — which is notable as both Sweden and Finland have eschewed NATO membership in order to keep their policies of neutrality intact.
Sweden is also in talks with Finland and Denmark to be able to base naval units in the countries’ homeports during peacetime.
The formation of the SFNTG comes amid a series of security shifts among the five Nordic countries — Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland. In early April, the five countries announced plans to expand their defence ties.
The move toward further defence cooperation shows how concerned these countries have become about the regional security environment. Iceland, Denmark, and Norway are already full NATO members. Sweden and Finland had steered away from the organisation out of concerns over infuriating Russia — but polls show that people in both countries thinking about the benefits of joining the alliance.
The formation of closer Nordic defence ties, in addition to Sweden and Finland’s increasing tilt towards NATO, demonstrate that Scandinavia is taking the threat of a resurgent Russia very seriously.
“Russia’s actions are the biggest challenge to the European security,” the defence ministers from the Nordic nations said in a joint declaration in April. “Russia’s propaganda and political manoeuvring are contributing to sowing discord between nations, and inside organisations like NATO and the EU.
“There is increasing military and intelligence activity in the Baltics and in our northern areas,” the statement said. “The Russian military is challenging us along our borders and there have been several border infringements in the Baltics.”
Since Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014, Moscow has pursued an aggressive military strategy in the Arctic and the Baltics. Russia has sent unprecedented numbers of jets and boats throughout the region, Sweden contends that Russia sailed a submarine through its territorial waters in October 2014, and the Kremlin is undertaking a massive military construction blitz throughout the Arctic.
Moscow is constructing 10 Arctic search-and-rescue stations, 16 deepwater ports, 13 airfields, and 10 air-defence radar stations across its Arctic coast. One of these military bases is only 30 miles from the Finnish border.
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