Sweden, a nation that maintained its neutrality throughout the twentieth century, announced on Sunday that it would send military aid to Ukraine. The aid package will include anti-tank weapons, helmets, and body armor, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson told reporters.
"Sweden is now proposing direct support for Ukraine's armed forces," Andersson explained during a news conference. It includes 135,000 field rations, 5,000 helmets, 5,000 body shields and 5,000 anti-tank weapons."
In the weeks leading up to Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Russian president Vladimir Putin demanded that NATO return to its pre-1997 status, a move that would exclude many former Warsaw Pact nations that have become members since. Instead of forcing NATO to scale back, Russia’s invasion could drive non-aligned nations, including Sweden, to pursue closer ties with the alliance.
"The recent Russia-Ukraine conflict has dramatically altered the landscape of defense and security on the continent in ways that will have a massive impact on the industry," said James Marques, an analyst at the international data analytics firm GlobalData.
"Sweden is amongst those countries whose political restraints on military activity have already been loosened—the nation will break with its doctrine of not sending arms to a war zone by supplying the Ukrainian military with 5,000 anti-tank weapons, ballistic protection, and field rations," Marques added.
Swedish Hardware Heading to Ukraine
It has been centuries since Sweden and Russia engaged in open warfare, but Swedish weapons could soon be used to take out Russian armor.
"One of the key weapons systems that Sweden is supplying to Ukraine is the Bofors AT-4, a single-use anti-tank launcher, designed to be operated with minimal training and an ideal weapon for the fast-moving situation. Recent comments from Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson signal a clear break from Sweden's historic position of neutrality," Marques explained.
"There are reports that Ukraine has specifically asked Sweden to send more SAAB NLAW Anti-tank systems, which have already been deployed against Russian armor and have proven to be popular, reliable and effective," Marques continued. "GlobalData's latest report on Sweden's defense market found that SAAB had a 4 percent drop in sales in Q4 2021 but maintains strong cash flows and will likely be bolstered by increased defense spending in Europe, which now includes a significant increase in Germany's annual defence spending to 2 percent of GDP."
The Baltic Sea as a NATO Lake?
While the former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are already NATO members, Russia's Baltic Sea Fleet could soon find itself operating in what is essentially a NATO-controlled lake if Sweden and its neighbor Finland join NATO.
Both nations are now expressing serious interest in joining NATO following Putin's invasion of Ukraine. In Finland, a citizens' initiative calling for a referendum on NATO membership successfully gathered the necessary 50,000 signatures in just four days.
Even if Helsinki and Stockholm don't move forward with full membership, it is clear that neither will kowtow to Moscow.
"This initial supply of Swedish arms to Ukraine is unprecedented and along with Finland, the country is being offered elevated access to NATO's intelligence community," said Marques. "Even though Sweden is unlikely to join NATO anytime soon the discussions around their possible membership have already provoked a threat of 'serious military and political consequences' from Russia."
Maria Zakharova, the spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, came out in opposition to Swedish and Finnish membership during a press conference on Friday. "Finland and Sweden should not base their security on damaging the security of other countries and their accession to NATO can have detrimental consequences and face some military and political consequences," Zakharova warned.
However, such threats might only have the opposite effect. Sweden is already showing itself to be an important partner with NATO, even if it doesn't officially join the alliance.
"Historically Sweden has enjoyed strong sales in Asia and the Middle East," said Marques. "However Russia's remarks will only serve to draw Sweden and NATO closer, who will likely continue to purchase arms from the Swedish market."
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.