The increased militancy of Vladimir Putin’s regime, has neighbors of the Eastern European giant looking west for help. In June 2015, NATO and Sweden conducted a joint training exercise in the Baltic, with 49 ships and over 5,600 troops participating. The exercise practiced conducting anti-submarine patrols through Swedish controlled waters and an amphibious assault with US Marines and their Swedish counterparts. Last fall, Swedish vessels engaged an unidentified submarine in coastal waters, and while it has been speculated the vessel belonged to Russia, no official confirmation was ever announced. The relationship between Sweden and Russia has soured in recent years, and indirect threats against the neutral nation’s sovereignty have been made by Russian officials. The Swedish military saw a drastic reduction in size following the end of the Cold War, but with renewed fears growing of a possible Russian invasion, Sweden has begun rebuilding its military force and establishing closer ties with NATO.
Sweden is not the only Baltic state to feel the heat from Russia, as the former Soviet Republics of Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia have all been threatened. Recently Russia has declared that they are going to review the legality of the independence of these Baltic States. The three nations were all granted their independence from the Soviet Union 25 years ago during the fall of the USSR. This move has only heightened tensions, because Russia deemed the transfer of the Crimea to Ukraine as unconstitutional and in the spring of 2014 launched a military offensive to retake the territory. NATO and other European Union members have increased military aid and presence in the Baltic, but it is undetermined whether such an action will deter a Russian offensive should it come to that.
Currently Estonia, Lithuania, and Estonia are members of NATO, whereas Finland and Sweden remain Partners for Peace with the organization. There has been a move in both Sweden and Finland to join NATO and experts note that should one of these two nations join the organization the other will most likely follow. Both Finland and Sweden have a long and complicated relationship with Russia. During the height of the Swedish Empire, Sweden possessed Finland, parts of Karelia, and Ingria (the location of St. Petersburg today). Most of this territory was lost during the Great Northern War. Finland remained under Russian control until the Russian Revolution, when it gained its independence. The two sides fought during World War II in the Winter War and the Continuation War. Whether the current economic sanctions imposed upon Russia will deter any future aggression against its Baltic neighbors will be seen, but as Russia continues to grow stronger, conflict may be inevitable.