by Charles Duxbury
The 150 Swedish soldiers dispatched to this Baltic Sea island for short, routine training last month received an unexpected order: Stay put. The decision made them the country’s first permanent force here in more than a decade.
The deployment is officially a first step to boost Sweden’s homeland defense at a moment when the Baltic Sea has again become a hotbed of East-West tensions, nearly a quarter-century after the downfall of the Soviet Union.
But experts say the move in Gotland—which is some 20 minutes by air to the Russian coast—carries bigger geopolitical significance: Sweden has all but abandoned the neutral stance it projected during the Cold War and is now firmly siding with NATO and helping it shore up Europe’s eastern flank, as Russia builds up its military capabilities in the region.