GOTLAND, Sweden: U.S. Marines and the Swedish Armed Forces have conducted air drops and amphibious landings on the island of Gotland, with a population of 58,000, as part of a NATO exercise in the Baltic Sea, entitled BALTOPS.
About 7,000 military personnel and 45 ships from 14 NATO countries, as well as Sweden and Finland, took part in the exercise.
While the annual BALTOPS exercise is not being held in response to a specific threat, this year's exercise comes amidst rising tensions with Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.
Despite their non-aligned status, the war in Ukraine led the governments of the Sweden and Finland to seek full membership in NATO last month. NATO's 30 member states are set to discuss the issue this month.
"I am feeling really prepared. I mean, we have made a big deployment on Gotland, and we will defend Gotland. It is a really hard task to take a defended island," said Swedish Col. Magnus Frykvall, regiment commander in Gotland, which is strategically located in the middle of the southern part of the Baltic Sea.
After the Cold War ended, the Gotland regiment was closed in 2005 as Sweden downsized its military, but Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula in 2014 led to reconsidering the closures, and a new regiment was established on Gotland in 2018.
Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, further reinforcements will add to the 400 Swedish soldiers permanently based on the island.
During the launch of the BALTOPS exercises last weekend in Stockholm, U.S. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, highlighted the importance for NATO allies "to show solidarity with both Finland and Sweden."
Coinciding with the NATO exercises, Russia's Baltic Fleet launched its own military exercises this week.
In a statement, the Russian press service said, "There are more than 20 warships and boats in the sea ranges of the Baltic Fleet, performing combat tasks both individually and as part of ship search-and-strike groups and ship strike groups."