Sep 6, 2022

Sweden’s idyllic holiday island of Gotland militarizes in face of Russian threats Transcript

Sweden's idyllic holiday island of Gotland militarizes in face of Russian threats Transcript
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Putin’s threats against the Nordic nations have special significance for the Swedish island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. Read the transcript here.

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Speaker 1: (00:00)
Tensions between Russia and Sweden are high following the Scandinavian nation’s application for NATO membership earlier this year. Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has warned NATO against beefing up its presence in the region. And these tensions have special significance for the idyllic Swedish island of Gotland, located in the Baltic Sea. Special correspondent, Malcolm Brabant, reports.

Malcolm Brabant: (00:25)
This summer, ferries have been full of passengers in vacation mood. During the three hour voyage from the mainland to Gotland, there were no visible qualms about heading to the island’s medieval capital, said to be in Russia’s cross hairs.

Malcolm Brabant: (00:39)
The Russian enclave of Kaliningrad is just over 200 miles away in that direction, across the Baltic Sea. Amid a flurry of very threatening rhetoric in June, Russia based medium range missiles there, which are capable of reaching Sweden.

Malcolm Brabant: (00:54)
In the event of the war in Ukraine escalating, native sources think it’s distinctly possible that Gotland could become a front line. In the middle of this glorious summer, it seems unreal to even say that, but Gotland has another face. It’s now a garrison. Sweden has been steadily reinforcing its defenses. And earlier this summer, NATO war gamed a possible Russian invasion. The island’s location makes it a key strategic target.

Magnus Frickval: (01:26)
Well, Gotland is situated in the middle of the Baltics. From Gotland, you could easily control both air and sea movements in the south of the Baltic Sea.

Malcolm Brabant: (01:38)
Colonel Magnus Frickval leads the Gotland regiment. He insists the Russian threat is not imaginary.

Magnus Frickval: (01:44)
Everything is much more real and we have seen what Russia is prepared to do to the neighboring countries.

Malcolm Brabant: (01:52)
It’s precisely because of the Russian threat to vulnerable regions like Gotland that Sweden sought to join NATO. Although Turkey’s parliament is yet to ratify the deal. Prime minister, Magdalena Andersson.

Magdalena Andersson: (02:03)
Ending 200 years of military non-alignment is not to be done without careful consideration. But my load [inaudible 00:02:12] star as prime minister during this process is what course of action is best serving Sweden’s security. And I am convinced that this is the right decision.

Jens Stoltenberg: (02:23)
It is clear that Sweden and Finland’s membership in NATO would boost transatlantic security. It will enable closer Nordic and closer Baltic defense corporation, and it’ll strengthen the alliances presence in the high north.

Malcolm Brabant: (02:42)
Vladimir Putin treated NATO’s expansion with studied indifference.

Speaker 2: (02:50)
In regard to Finland and Sweden, we don’t have problems with Finland and Sweden, that unfortunately we have with Ukraine. We have no territorial disputes with them. There’s nothing that might concern us in terms of Finland and Sweden becoming NATO members. If they want to, please go ahead.

Malcolm Brabant: (03:09)
But then, he issued a threat.

Speaker 2: (03:16)
Now, if NATO troops and infrastructure are deployed, we will be compelled to respond in kind, and create the same threats for the territories from which threats towards us are created. It’s obvious. What, don’t they understand that? Everything was going fine between us, but now there will be tensions. There certainly will. This is obvious and inevitable, I repeat, if there is a threat to us.

Malcolm Brabant: (03:40)
In March this year, Russian planes entered Swedish airspace near Gotland. One Swedish TV channel reported that they were carrying nuclear weapons. The Swedes described the incursion as intimidation. Two Gripen fighters were scrambled. They intercepted the Russians and turned them around.

Pierre Schori: (03:59)
Putin would never invade Gotland.

Malcolm Brabant: (04:02)
Pierre Schori is Sweden’s former ambassador to the United Nations.

Pierre Schori: (04:06)
He’s busy in Ukraine having his own Afghanistan again. And if ever Gotland were to be invaded, or as a target, it would be in a general war between NATO and Russia. And that is, happily enough, I think not going to happen.

Malcolm Brabant: (04:27)
Is there a danger of underestimating Russia’s power and its military intentions?

Magnas Ranstorp: (04:32)
I think there is always a danger of underestimating the Putin regime because it is the Putin regime, and it’s potential military danger. And I think it will be a huge mistake.

Malcolm Brabant: (04:45)
Terrorism expert, Magnas Ranstorp, approves of NATO’s vigilance, despite Russia’s failures in Ukraine.

Magnas Ranstorp: (04:52)
We don’t know whether he will use tactical nuclear weapons. We don’t know what his next moves will be, whether he will sort of retreat, et cetera. So we don’t know what he’s going to do. And that makes it really unpredictable and dangerous. And in that sort of scenario, you cannot afford to do anything else.

Malcolm Brabant: (05:12)
Anti-NATO activist, Sten Sandberg, is dismayed that Sweden has abandoned its long tradition of neutrality, which enabled it to help broker a piece around the world.

Sten Sandberg: (05:22)
The Russian say they never going to fight a new war on their own territorial. USA say, “We never going to fight on American land.” Where are we going to fight? Europe. And we are part of Europe. If we are in NATO, we will be a part of the destructure.

Malcolm Brabant: (05:43)
But that view is out of step with mainstream Swedish opinion. The latest poll suggests that 60% of the population approves of NATO membership.

Malcolm Brabant: (05:52)
What’s the mood behind the medieval walls of Gotland’s main town, Visby?

Speaker 3: (05:57)
It’s just the same. Visby is a happy town. Gotland is a happy island. And I don’t feel threatened. I talk to my friends in Gotland and none of us feel threatened, but people on mainland Sweden, they are worried about us. They call us. Parents and my students starts this autumn, they all ask questions about if we feel threatened, if we feel worried. And the answer is always, “No, we don’t.”

Speaker 4: (06:26)
I guess I feel safer because of NATO. I never felt scared or anything about this situation. It’s stupid men making stupid talk, that’s how I see it. So I sleep comfortably at night.

Speaker 5: (06:43)
It’s so lot of things who is scary and you can’t take it in. I’m trying to do good things for the world, for me, for my family, for everyone. And that’s what I can do, and to vote, of course.

Malcolm Brabant: (07:02)
Meit Fohlin is hoping to become Gotland’s next mayor in forthcoming elections. She used to be an advocate of neutrality, but now she’s not so sure.

Meit Fohlin: (07:12)
If it was only up to me, sit this out, stay to what we always have done. We have a long time policy when it comes to security and peace. I also know that I haven’t got the full picture, of course, when it comes to the security policy on a national level. And I in that also rely very much in those who actually have.

Malcolm Brabant: (07:36)
Sweden’s NATO membership isn’t a done deal. Turkey might yet defy its alliance partners and wheel the veto. Former UN ambassador Pierre Schori.

Pierre Schori: (07:46)
We are changing the dynamics in the Baltics by joining NATO into a more dangerous situation, because now the Baltics will be almost a NATO sea. And of course, the Russians will somehow react. And we should not contribute to that. That’s why I was saying, if you want to get rid of guns, you don’t join the National Rifle Association.

Malcolm Brabant: (08:14)
For the time being though, Gotland remains as delightful as ever. The only invaders are tourists. But for young people, the future is much more precarious than it was for their ancestors.

Malcolm Brabant: (08:26)
For the PBS News Hour, I’m Malcolm Brabant in Gotland.

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