Sweden has, if nothing else, added a new definition to the concept of partnership. Earlier this week the Swedish daily Expressen reported that an extraordinary meeting had taken place between the state secretary in the Foreign Ministry, Annika Soder, and Russia’s ambassador to Stockholm, Viktor Tatarintsev. It wasn’t the meeting that was extraordinary: it was Tatarintsev’s demands.
But first, a bit of background: during an upcoming military exercise this spring in the Baltic Sea, Swedish aviators will join Finnish and American colleagues in practicing the defense of regional airspace. An exercise involving the Swedish, Finnish, and American air forces is a logical response to Russia’s growing military activities in the skies above the Baltic Sea and its neighboring countries: the Baltic states only have minimal air force capabilities, whereas Sweden and Finland’s air forces are, at least in theory, able to hold their own against intruders. It makes sense to practice together and to be joined by the United States, which the Baltic states consider their protector.
But, Tatarintsev told Soder, Russia is not pleased. “The fact that these countries, who don’t belong to a military alliance, conduct an exercise with the United States can’t leave Russia indifferent,” said the Swedish Foreign Ministry in a memo written after the meeting that leaked to Expressen. To this end, Tatarintsev asked Soder to specify both the dates and objectives of the exercise. Apparently Soder and her boss, Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom, caved in: the memo notes Soder later informed Tatarintsev that no Swedish planes will land in Estonia. “Tatarintsev appeared pleased with the response,” the memo reads. Here’s a lesson in transatlantic solidarity: Sweden, being unable to defend itself for more than a week, effectively relies on NATO to help. But when it comes to standing up for its friends, a mere pointed inquiry by a Russian official seems to be enough to forget about corresponding solidarity.