Russia Practiced Nuclear Strike on Sweden: NATO Report

Swedish fighter jet lands at Swiss airbase
A Swedish Saab Gripen fighter plane lands at the Swiss Army Airbase in Emmen, central Switzerland, July 29, 2008. In 2013, Sweden struggled to mobilize its air force in response to a Russian military exercise. Michael Buholzer/Files/Reuters

Russia's air force has practiced a nuclear strike against Sweden, according to a report by NATO's secretary general.

The Russian training mission, which took place in March 2013 by the eastern edge of the Stockholm archipelago, attracted a great deal of media attention and some Swedish media outlets speculated the maneuvers resembled what a Russian aerial attack on Sweden would look like.

The incident involved a rapid deployment of Russian bomber and fighter aircraft at Sweden's aerial border, prompting an embarrassingly slow response from the Swedish air force. Unable to mobilize its own air force in time, Stockholm had to ask NATO to send jets to deal with the possible threat.

Two Danish NATO jets arrived to shadow the exercise. But the incident still demonstrated the level of Sweden's vulnerability, as Russian aircraft with nuclear capabilities came within striking range of its capital city.

According to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg's annual report, the move was indeed a simulated nuclear strike against Sweden and part of a worrying trend of Russian aggression in Northern Europe.

Sweden and Finland, both non-aligned with NATO but frequent partners to its military exercises, have complained of airspace violations by Russian aircraft in recent months. Over the course of 2014 and 2015, NATO's Baltic Air Police scrambled a record number of jets to deal with incoming Russian military aircraft.

The report, which was released last week but only attracted the attention of Scandinavian news outlets on Wednesday, speculated that the likely targets of such an attack would be Smaland in southern Sweden and the National Defence Radio Establishment, Sweden's military intelligence hub, just outside Stockholm. The report confirmed that the group of planes consisted of four Russian Tupolev Tu-22M3 bombers as well as two Sukhoi Su-27 jets.

"As part of its comprehensive military rearmament, the extent of Russia's military maneuvers and exercises have reached levels not seen since the end of the Cold War," the report said.

NATO membership is gaining popularity in Sweden as a September a poll found that 41 percent of Swedes were in favor of joining the alliance, up 10 percent from 2013. London-based security think tank the European Leadership Network warned over the summer that the nature and scale of Russian and NATO military exercises were amplifying the risk of an accidental confrontation.