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Sweden ready for Russian retaliation over NATO decision, PM says

MADRID — Russia’s reaction so far has been “rather mild” to Sweden getting the green light to join NATO, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said on Wednesday. But her country is ready if Moscow does retaliate with cyberattacks or other aggressive measures, she added.

“The response from Russia has been rather mild, which I think makes a lot of sense,” Andersson said in an interview with POLITICO on the morning after Sweden and neighboring Finland reached a historic deal to join NATO. “Russia knows that we have been a partner to NATO for a long time, that we have had close cooperation with NATO for many years. So maybe they don’t see this as such a big step.”

“But of course,” she added, “we have increased our preparedness for [a] potential response from Russia, for instance, when it comes to cyber.”

In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Sweden and Finland abandoned decades of nonalignment and applied for NATO membership — perhaps the clearest indication that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war had backfired. Putin claimed his invasion of Ukraine was partly intended to contain NATO and prevent further expansion of the U.S.-led military alliance.

Turkey had been blocking the Nordic nations from joining the alliance, but Ankara relented on Tuesday night at the outset of a NATO leaders’ summit in Madrid. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg hailed the agreement as a “historic decision.”

In the interview, Andersson used similar language to describe the developments. “This was a historic day for Sweden and for NATO yesterday,” she said. “My ambition is that that will not only increase security in Sweden and Finland, but in NATO as a whole.”

Sweden and Finland have long been partner nations with NATO, and their relatively advanced militaries are already highly interoperable with those of other allied nations.

But with Sweden and Finland as allies, NATO will instantly gain vastly expanded cold-weather war-fighting capabilities. Those capabilities stand to be useful in answering threats from Russia — especially in the Arctic, which is viewed as an increasingly competitive and important strategic theater.

Andersson said there was broad consensus on this point in March when she visited Norway to observe Operation Cold Response, a NATO training exercise, and to speak with military personnel.

“They all said it was very good for soldiers from some countries where there is not so much snow to practice in the northern part of Norway because they were not used to the conditions,” she said. “So now there will be two other allies that are used to ice, snow and very cold weather — minus 40 degrees.”

Andersson said Sweden and Finland were not just joining NATO to protect themselves but to increase the protection of other allied countries.

“Because a member of NATO is something that, of course, would increase security in Sweden and then in Finland, but we have the ambition that we will be security providers to NATO as a whole, and to all NATO countries,” she said. “We are right now in the midst of the largest buildup of our military, our defense since the ’50s.”

She added: “We are strong on the water, under the water, and in the sky. And together with Finland, they’re very strong on the ground, I think we, together, will really provide for more security to NATO.”

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