Swedish commander: Putin aims to control Baltic Sea, has his eye on Gotland Island

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Russian President Vladimir Putin may be seeking dominance over the Baltic Sea and has his eye on the Swedish island of Gotland, Micael Byden, the supreme commander of the Swedish Armed Forces, said in an interview with the German media network RND published on May 22.

A day earlier, Russia unveiled its plans to unilaterally change the maritime border with Lithuania and Finland in the Baltic Sea. Moscow intends to appropriate inland sea waters in the eastern part of the Gulf of Finland and near the cities of Baltiysk and Zelenogradsk in Kaliningrad Oblast, according to a decree prepared by the Russian Defense Ministry.

"I am confident that Putin even has both eyes on Gotland. Putin's goal is to gain control of the Baltic Sea," Byden said.

"Who controls Gotland controls the Baltic Sea."

Gotland, Sweden's largest island, is located about 330 kilometers (around 200 miles) north of the Russian exclave Kaliningrad, the headquarters of Russia's Baltic Fleet, and is strategically important for the defense of the Baltic Sea region.

If Russia seizes control of the island, it could threaten NATO countries from the sea, according to Byden.

"This would signify the end of peace and stability in the Nordic and Baltic regions," the Swedish military chief says. "The Baltic Sea should not turn into Putin's playground where he intimidates NATO members."

Since the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Sweden has reinforced Gotland with permanent troops and additional forces that can be deployed temporarily if the risk level escalates.

Sweden officially joined NATO on March 7, almost two years after it applied to join the alliance in a direct response to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and in a reversal of 200 years of formal military neutrality.

Read also: Swedish Navy chief says Russian ‘shadow fleet’ of oil tankers possibly conducting espionage in Baltic Sea

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