STOCKHOLM • Sweden intends to bring back military conscription to counter Russia's military build-up in the Baltic Sea, in a move that underscores how tensions are mounting along Europe's borders with the nuclear superpower.
The decision by the government in Stockholm means that some 13,000 young men and women born from 1999 will be called for enrolment from July 1, with at least 4,000 of them selected for compulsory military service starting next year, the Swedish Defence Ministry said yesterday.
The return of the draft in Sweden is taking place amid a heated debate across Europe over how the continent should stand up for itself in the face of an "America First" President who insists that United States allies should contribute more to the collective defence bill.
Recent activity by Russia has rattled the Baltic states and sparked debate on whether non-aligned Sweden should join Nato.
Sweden and Russia spent centuries fighting over control of the Baltic Sea. Tension resurfaced during the Cold War, particularly when the Soviet nuclear submarine U-137 beached outside Sweden's Karlskrona naval base in 1981. More recently, in 2014, a foreign submarine violated Swedish territory by entering the Stockholm archipelago, with local media pointing fingers at Russia.
The Swedish Security Service has warned that Russia is conducting espionage in and against Sweden.
Analysts in Brussels are now warning of a Russian disinformation effort to portray the Scandinavian country as unsafe due to its acceptance of a large number of migrants during the refugee crisis of 2015.
Sweden introduced voluntary military service in 2010, after years of steadily reducing the number of people called up for basic training.
While Nato membership is not on the cards for now, Scandinavia's biggest economy has been forced to rethink its defence policy. Last year, it responded to Russian posturing by placing soldiers on a permanent basis on the Baltic Sea island of Gotland.