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NATO’s newest member eyes ‘prolonged’ conflict with Russia

Moscow is the problem but Ukraine can put a stop to it “once and for all,” the Swedish foreign minister has claimed

Sweden is determined to confront Russia as part of NATO, the newest member of the US-led military bloc has pledged. Arming Ukraine is a way to deal with Moscow’s “appetites,” Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said on Thursday.

The top diplomat praised his country’s future contribution to NATO’s strategy for the Baltic region in an interview with German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle. Sweden formally joined the US-led military bloc earlier this month.

“It is not Sweden and NATO that constitutes a problem,” he told the broadcaster. “It is Russia that is behaving irresponsibly and recklessly.”

Billstrom cited examples of Russian behavior that he finds “unacceptable,” primary among which is the military operation in Ukraine. Moscow, however, perceives the conflict as part of a Western proxy war against Russia. It has cited NATO’s expansion in Europe, which was done in breach of Western promises to Moscow, as among the primary causes of the hostilities. The tensions will persist for years to come, the Swedish official predicted.

We are in for a prolonged period of conflict with Russia. It goes for NATO, it goes for the EU. And we have to adapt ourselves accordingly.

The diplomat claimed that Russia was “on a path towards regaining its former imperial assets” as he justified NATO’s military buildup in the Baltics. A large chunk of the region was part of the Russian empire and later the USSR.

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The Russian government has no territorial claims against states in the Baltics and has denied any intention to start a fight with NATO. Such a conflict would be devastating for everyone involved, but it is the West that risks it by fueling the crisis in Ukraine, officials in Moscow have argued.

Billstrom, who was visiting Berlin, demonstrated his solidarity with Kiev by wearing a lapel pin featuring the national flags of Sweden and Ukraine. When asked about future aid, he declined to make any pledges about Swedish-made Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighter jets or Swedish troops on the ground.

“We should do more, of course, but that does not mean that we necessarily have to do it on Ukrainian soil,” he explained.

Ukraine may be pushed back on the battlefield now, but with Western help, it can win, Billstrom asserted. That would “put a stop to Russia once and for all,” he stated.


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