SWEDEN and Finland have joined troops from 14 Nato countries for major war games amid invasion fears after Vladimir Putin’s threat to “reclaim” territory.
Some 7,000 troops and 45 ships took part in the military drills alongside the two countries in defiance of a chilling warning from Russia that it could nuke the regions in “ten seconds”.
The training tasks included air drops and amphibious landings on Gotland, an island strategically located in the middle of the southern part of the Baltic Sea.
Swedish Armed Forces have been practicing with US troops how to defend the island of 58,000 people – and how to take it back from a foreign aggressor.
It comes amid heightened tensions as Putin’s war in Ukraine rages on and just weeks after both Finland and Sweden confirmed they would be applying for Nato membership.
Finland has remained militarily non-aligned for 75 years, but after Russia invaded Ukraine in February political and public opinion swung dramatically in favour of membership.
Despite their non-aligned status, the two Nordic have practiced regularly with Nato countries.
As military hardware was deployed on the coast, Swedish Col. Magnus Frykvall, the island’s regiment commander, said: “I’m feeling really prepared. I mean, we have made a big deployment on Gotland, and we will defend Gotland.
“It’s a really hard task to take a defended island.”
It comes amid Russia’s threat to “reclaim” Sweden like Peter the Great in the 18th century as he forged a new Russian Empire.
Putin said: “You might think he was fighting with Sweden, seizing their lands.
“But he seized nothing – he reclaimed it. It seems it has fallen to us, too, to reclaim and strengthen.”
Swedish island Gotland has seen foreign invasions throughout its history – the most recent one in 1808 when Russian forces briefly occupied it.
But after the Cold War ended, Sweden felt the risk of Russian aggression was so remote it refocused its armed forces on foreign peacekeeping operations rather than territorial defense.
The Gotland regiment was closed in 2005 as Sweden downsized its military.
Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula in 2014 led to a rethink, and a new regiment was established on Gotland in 2018.
There are now around 400 Swedish soldiers permanently based on the island. Further reinforcements are planned following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
But many Gotlanders feel Sweden would not be able to defend the island on its own.
Lars Soderdahl, a 33-year-old chef in the island’s main town, Visby, said: “If we were to be invaded, we wouldn’t stand a chance because our defense is too small.
“We have a really modern and good defense, but it’s too small.”
Meanwhile, Putin has hit back at Nato’s war games by staging major drills in the Baltic Sea.
It comes as Nato’s existing 30 members are set to discuss Finland and Sweden joining the alliance this month amid threats from Russia.
Senior Russian politician Aleksey Zhuravlyov threatened to nuke Britain with its Satan-2 hypersonic missile in 200 seconds and obliterate Finland in just ten.
Zhuravlyov, 59, deputy chairman of the Russian parliament’s defence committee, said in an interview it was “absolutely legitimate” for Russia to “question the existence” of Finland.
Just weeks ago, Russia started deploying nuclear missiles toward its border with Finland in wake of the nation’s bold Nato bid.
Menacing mobile Iskander missiles were spotted being transported towards the dividing line as desperate Putin throws a troubling tantrum.