Could Russia go to war with Sweden?

Moscow will not attack Sweden as things stand but clash with Finland a more realistic possibility, says military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer

Leila Nezirevic  | 19.01.2024 - Update : 22.01.2024
Could Russia go to war with Sweden?

- Moscow will not attack Sweden as things stand but clash with Finland a more realistic possibility, says military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer

- There is a possibility of nuclear escalation in the Middle East and beyond if Israel’s war on Gaza is not contained, Felgenhauer tells Anadolu

- Russia is determined to control countries such as Moldova and Georgia to stop them from joining NATO and EU members, says Gunilla Herolf, senior research fellow at Swedish Institute of International Affairs


As Sweden edges closer to NATO, top officials in the country have been increasingly raising the specter of possible armed conflict with Russia.

“Many have said it before me but let me say it with the force of my office: There could be a war in Sweden,” Civil Defense Minister Carl-Oskar Bohlin said a recent conference in Salen.

He went on to warn that the world as a whole is facing a security threat with greater risks than at any time since the end of World War II.

Defense Minister Pal Jonson has also warned that an attack on Sweden, which has not been involved in a military conflict since a short-lived war with neighboring Norway in 1814, cannot be ruled out.

He said the world has become more dangerous than just a year ago, and the current situation requires “clarity of vision to understand that Russia’s goal remains the eradication of a free Ukraine and creation of a Europe in which ‘might is right,’ with buffer states and spheres of interest.”

The last time Russia and Sweden were at war was at the beginning of the 19th century, when Russia annexed Finland, then a part of Sweden.

Swedes also fought the Russians unofficially during the so-called Winter War of 1939-1940 between the Soviet Union and Finland, when a large Swedish military contingent was sent as volunteers.

Sweden has a long history when it comes to preparing for war with Russia, but this changed in the 1990s and 2000s when it was widely believed that there will be no big wars in Europe anymore, according to Pavel Felgenhauer, a Moscow-based military analyst and columnist.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the Nordic country developed a big military and its own nuclear weapons, but decided to get rid of nuclear weapons as part of their non-alignment policy.

Today, the Swedish military is much smaller, with conscription system mothballed in the late 2000s.

Prior to gaining neutral status, Sweden was basically always “preparing for war with Russia,” according to Felgenhauer.

“That’s what they have been doing during the Cold War, before the Cold War, during the 19th century. They have always seen Russia as an enemy,” he told Anadolu.

There is a long history between Sweden and Russia of fighting endless wars more than two centuries ago, and this “most likely explains why the Swedes are so anxious,” he added.

War in Europe likely to expand

Gunilla Herolf, senior research fellow at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, believes there is no reason for immediate panic.

Sweden is pushing to join NATO, having applied for membership in May 2022 along with Finland, just months after Russia launched its war on Ukraine.

Finland, which shares a 1,340-kilometer (830-mile) border with Russia, became a NATO member in April last year, while Sweden’s bid still needs ratification by member countries Türkiye and Hungary.

With Sweden on its way to join the alliance and all other Scandinavian nations already in it, the country is “safe against military attack in the near future, but we don’t know how things will develop,” Herolf told Anadolu.

Moscow, however, has an ability “to destroy the country from working at all, if they really want,” by launching cyberattacks and sabotage operations, but “we are not the primary goal for Russia,” she added.

In her view, Russia’s focus right now is to conquer and defeat Ukraine, and then to have control over Moldova and Georgia.

Moscow is determined to control these countries in the near future to prevent them from becoming NATO and EU members, Herolf explained.

Eventually, Russia will look to expand the war, but currently we do not know how far its ambition goes, as it all depends on how things turn out in Ukraine, she said.

One thing for sure is that the war will spread to Moldova and Georgia, particularly if Moscow does not manage to control these nations without military means, according to Herolf.

- Finland at risk

Moscow will not attack Sweden militarily as things stand, but when it comes to Finland, there is a more realistic possibility of a clash, mainly because it has long border with Russia, according to Felgenhauer.

He believes that there is a chance of border clashes between Russia and Finland that could then escalate into something serious.

He further argued that the possibility of escalation was there from the very beginning of the Ukraine war, and the Kremlin is now positioned to reach Moldova and Georgia.

Russia, though, has serious problems with modern equipment and equipment in general, which could curtail its push to expand the war, he said.

“I don’t believe that anyone in Moscow has any appetite to begin, after Ukraine, going further on into Europe,” Felgenhauer explained.

However, a conflict of some kind over the Black Sea or the Baltic Sea could basically lead to an escalation, he said.

In his opinion, neither the West nor Russia want further escalation and will try to avoid that scenario at the moment.

Ultimately, there is a possibility of escalation of the Ukrainian conflict, though, it seems that the frontline is stable right now, he said.

That, however, “does not mean it will continue to be deadlocked indefinitely,” Felgenhauer said.

Nuclear threat

There is also a possibility of escalation in the Middle East and beyond if Israel’s war on Gaza is not contained, Felgenhauer said.

If it is allowed to spill over, the Israeli war on Gaza could escalate very seriously, drawing in many regional countries and outside powers like the US, UK and Australia, he said.

In all these conflicts, there are nuclear powers that are involved so there is a possibility of not just of an escalation, but a nuclear escalation too, he warned.

“Hopefully that won’t happen. But it’s still possible and very dangerous,” said the analyst.

On the possibility of World War III, he said it is unlikely for now as that would involve the US and Russia fighting each other, together with allies, or maybe even China joining in.

The conflicts in the Middle East and in Ukraine are regional right now, but regional wars can always escalate into a world war, he warned.

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