Sweden is stepping up the pace of reservist training | war in Ukraine

This cheese and ham seller at a supermarket says she feels reassured that she can devote the next month to perfecting her gun skills. It’s important because I want to do something instead of sitting at home worrying about not knowing what to do or what’s going to happen.

What worries him is Russia.

Camilla, Territorial Defense reservist, trainee.

Photo: Radio Canada / Marie-Eve Bédard

Camilla is one of the reservists in Sweden’s territorial defense. She lives on the island of Gotland, a peaceful landmass whose old town of Visby and its fortifications are beginning to see the finer days attracting tourists.

Normally, because of her commitment, Camilla has to devote a few days a year to military training. But that’s no longer enough, decided Sweden. She and her fellow civilians were all summoned. You must become tougher soldiers, and fast.

The war in Ukraine has disturbed the peace of Gotland, says Jeannette. It’s very close to our home, so it became a reality. It’s worrying, but I’m not scared.

Jeannette doesn’t come to the shooting range alone. Between practices and exams, she walks her two dogs. Both are trained in detecting drugs and explosives and could also come to defend Sweden.

Its commander, Magnus Frykvall, was sent to the island of Gotland six months ago, where the exercises are taking place. He is in charge of the regular army regiment and civilian volunteers. Putin has clearly shown the world that he is willing to use military force to achieve his political goals. Of course, since Gotland is of great strategic importance, you need to be prepared.

During the Cold War, Sweden stationed up to 25,000 of its troops on the island. When it ended Gotland was completely demilitarized. It was a miscalculation, Commander Frykvall believes. Sweden is not the only country in Europe that has changed its approach, turning away from national defense to engage in international military operations. But in the situation we live in today, it was a mistake.

A soldier discusses with his superior.

Commander Magnus Frykvall

Photo: Radio Canada / Marie-Eve Bédard

What Magnus Frykvall calls a mistake was corrected in 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea. Today 200 regular army soldiers are stationed on the island. Soon there will be many more.

The Swedish government has just announced that it has committed an additional 163 million euros or more than 220 million Canadian dollars to strengthen its military infrastructure on Gotland.

A beach

The island of Gotland is the largest island in Sweden.

Photo: Radio Canada / Marie-Eve Bédard

In the heart of the Baltic Sea, Gotland is once again gaining great strategic importance. The island is only around 300 kilometers away from the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. From there, Russia could carry out its threats of retaliation should Sweden decide to join NATO.

There it is, the debate in Sweden today. Like neighboring Finland, the Scandinavian country has made non-NATO membership a real doctrine for decades. But the Social Democratic government would be about to break with this tradition of military neutrality.

Demonstrators in the streets of Stockholm dressed in Ukrainian flags.

On Saturday, May 7th, several hundred Swedes and Ukrainian refugees gathered in the rain to beg for more support from Ukraine.

Photo: Radio Canada / Marie-Eve Bédard

Swedish public opinion has also changed significantly since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. One in two Swedes now says he supports it, which is unprecedented, according to pollster Torbjörn Sjöstrom, who has been interested in the issue since the start of the war in Ukraine.

First, we saw that Ukraine was not protected by NATO. We realized that we probably wouldn’t either. We also saw that the threat was real, not just words, he says. And then we have been seeing the provocations and threats from Russia for a long time. But she went too far. So we didn’t get scared, we got angry.

Portrait of Torbjorn Sjostrom

Torbjörn Sjöström, survey specialist

Photo: Radio Canada / Marie-Eve Bédard

Swedish MEP Karin Karlsbro shares this anger. A month ago, she went for a walk on the Boutcha site in a suburb of Kyiv. She came back haunted by the war crimes committed there.

What we saw in Boutcha, the same thing is happening elsewhere in Ukraine while we are here. It’s very painful. »

A quote from Karin Karlsbro

This is what she said to a few hundred Swedish citizens and Ukrainian refugees who gathered in central Stockholm on a rainy Saturday to support Ukraine.

Portrait of MP Karin Karlsbro.

The report of Marie-Eve Bédard

Photo: Radio Canada / Marie-Eve Bédard

However, Karin Karlsbro did not need to see the horrors of war in Ukraine to support her country’s membership in NATO. The liberal party to which she belongs has long supported the military alliance. Now it’s urgent. What happened in Ukraine woke up Swedish society.

Although everyone here is clearly dismayed by the fate of Ukraine, they do not share their enthusiasm for NATO.

Demonstrators carry placards portraying Russian leader Vladimir Putin as a war criminal.

Every Saturday people gather in central Stockholm for demonstrations in support of Ukraine.

Photo: Radio Canada / Marie-Eve Bédard

Therese Bennich is torn. I’m not sure, not at all. I don’t have a clear answer. Before the war I would have been against it. Now I don’t know.

A bit like the words of Swedish leaders, Jillian Liliastrum seems more resigned than enthusiastic about the idea of ​​abandoning Sweden’s neutrality. You have to, she says, but it’s the sacrifice of an ideal. The ideal of peace, not being part of a military alliance. I’m also concerned about nuclear weapons. There are so many aspects that I don’t like. But I’m also afraid for Finland. And I don’t want to let her down when she joins NATO.

The election is painful for many, but it seems today that it will not come as a surprise. Sweden will announce its decision next Sunday.

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