A US warship arrives in Stockholm to conduct military exercises and warn

Aboard the USS Kearsarge, in Stockholm Harbor – If there’s ever been a powerful symbol of how much the Russian invasion of Ukraine affected Europe, it’s the sight of this formidable battleship, filled with 26 warplanes and 2,400 marines and seas, moored Between the pleasure boats and the tourist boats that ply this port, you will definitely be.

“No one in Stockholm could miss the presence of this great American ship here in our city,” said Mikael Biden, Supreme Commander of the Swedish Armed Forces, standing on the deck of the amphibious assault ship in the shadow of the MV-22 Osprey below. Clear sky on Saturday. “There are more abilities on this ship than I can gather in a garrison.”

In this permanent neutral country that has suddenly become highly impartial, USS Kearsarge, which appeared just two weeks after Sweden and Finland announced their intention to seek NATO membership, is the promise of what membership will bring: protection if Russia’s President Vladimir V Putin directs his wrath. towards its neighbors to the north.

But the ship also serves as a warning to Sweden and Finland about their potential obligations in the event of a conflict, General Mark Milley, the top US military commander, made clear during Saturday’s visit.

“The Russians have their Baltic Fleet,” General Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, but that NATO would have a large number of member states flanked around the Baltic once Sweden and Finland joined. Basically, the Baltic Sea will become a NATO lake, with the exception of Saint Petersburg and Kaliningrad.

“From a Russian perspective, that would be a huge problem for them, militarily speaking,” General Milley said.

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, appearing at a news conference aboard the ships alongside General Milley, sought to emphasize the defensive nature of NATO.

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But military experts say there is a clear expectation that the entry of Sweden and Finland into the alliance means that they will contribute to any naval strangulation that NATO might place in the Baltic Sea in the event of war with Russia, a potentially lengthy task. historically non-aligned countries.

Both countries want security guarantees, particularly from the United States and other NATO allies, during this transition period while negotiations with Turkey disrupt their formal membership in the military alliance. Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist told reporters in Washington two weeks ago that the Pentagon had pledged several temporary security measures: US Navy warships sailing in the Baltic Sea, aerial bombers soaring over Scandinavia, military forces training together, and US specialists helping thwart any Possible Russian cyber attacks.

But while President Biden has pledged that the United States will help defend Sweden and Finland before they join the coalition, US officials have refused to specify what form that assistance will take, beyond what General Milley on Saturday described as a “modest increase” in military exercises.

Nordic officials have admitted that the refusal of any NATO country to send actual troops to Ukraine reveals the difference between promises of military assistance to friendly nations in exchange for that under a treaty ratified by the Senate that says an attack on one is an attack on all – the famous Article 5.

However, Kearsarge is in the Baltic Sea to participate in exercises aimed at teaching NATO, Swedish and Finnish forces how to carry out amphibious attacks – the storming of lands captured, for example, Russia. It’s an extremely complex type of warfare—think of the D-Day landings during World War II—that requires coordination between air, land, and naval units in what military planners call a “combined arms” mission.

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If the exercises go according to plan, thousands of marines, sailors, airmen and other forces from 16 different countries will hold a beachhead in the Stockholm archipelago.

It’s exactly the kind of military operation Russia has not yet been able to carry out in Ukraine, and the inability to do so, say military experts, is a big part of why Russia hasn’t been able to capture the southern Ukrainian port city of Odessa. .

Pentagon officials note that when thousands of Russian marines landed in southern Ukraine on the coast of the Sea of ​​Azov on February 25 to target Mariupol, they did so 43 miles east of the city, avoiding a contested amphibious assault.

Besides disintegrating the idea that the Russian military is an effective machine, the requests of Sweden and Finland to join NATO are perhaps the biggest unintended consequence of Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine. Instead, Putin now faces the prospect of a NATO military alliance forming not just on his doorstep but around part of the house.

The 2004 accession of Latvia and Estonia to NATO expanded its borders on the Baltic Sea with Russia to a distance of just over 300 miles; Finland’s entry into the alliance would add another 830 miles, putting Saint Petersburg roughly within artillery range.

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Meanwhile, Sweden shares a maritime border with Russia, as well as Finland. Within a day of Finland’s leaders declaring their country should apply for NATO membership, the Kearsarge, named after a Civil War Union sloop famous for sinking Confederate ships, was heading to join the Finnish and Swedish navies for training.

In fact, NATO has identified several power shows with Sweden and Finland. “There’s a whole bunch of exercises that weren’t on the training schedule,” said Charlie Salonius Pasternak, a military expert at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs in Helsinki.

An emerging partnership is a two-way street. For NATO, other than the alliance’s wrapping around Russia’s western borders, the entry of Sweden and Finland allows military planners to reimagine all of Northern Europe’s defenses. In the past, the coalition had to make compromises about where to focus forces, headquarters, and command and control to provide the best advantage.

All this will undoubtedly attract the ire of Mr. Putin, who has long complained about the expansion of the military alliance into what he sees as his own sphere of influence.

“There will be an almost continuous presence of non-Finnish military units in Finland,” said Mr. Salonius Pasternak. “Are they the key to Finnish defence? No. But it might add to our eastern neighbour’s calculations.”

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