"Åland 17 is the first peace exercise of this kind. Like war exercises that were held for centuries with almost unlimited budgets, this is the first peace exercise to blend reality with fiction," the organizers wrote on their homepage.
Åland 17 coincides with two major military exercises, Aurora 17 in southern Sweden and Zapad in western Russia. The choice of location is also symbolic, as the Baltic Sea archipelago is halfway between Sweden and Finland has been demilitarized since 1856; the islanders are exempt from Finnish conscription. In recent years, however, calls for reintroducing military forces have been heard, most notably from Finnish Defense Minister Jussi Niinistö, who called the demilitarized Åland Islands "a military vacuum."
"It's very remarkable that just Åland has become the scene for a Swedish-Russian camp of this sort. I cannot say if the Swedish activists can be called 'pro-Russian,' but it's extremely naïve to imagine that one can actually promote peace in such a way. I see this as a Russian operation, as well as an attempt to influence public opinion in both Sweden and Finland," former Finnish ambassador to Moscow Hannu Himanen told the Finnish daily Hufvudstadsbladet. "It sounds very Russian to choose to arrange an event of this kind on Åland of all the possible places and then refer to demilitarization. Similarly, it is very Russian to criticize the legitimate defense needs of Sweden and other Nordic countries," Himanen continued.
In reality, however, the main person behind the initiative is Pelle Sunvisson, former chairman of the The Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society's Stockholm department, which also happens to be the largest financial contributor to the camp. Sunvisson explained that Åland 17 only asked for donations in Swedish, in order to avoid controversy, as the public would immediately claim that the money was coming from Putin.
"We are organizing the exercise, because important voices of peace cannot be silenced. The more aggressive the situation becomes, the harder it becomes to stand up for peace," Pelle Sunvisson told Hufvudstadsbladet.
"The sharper the situation becomes in the Baltic Sea, the harder it gets to reach out with a message of peace. Anyone in Sweden engaging in peace issues will soon be stamped a 'Putin agent,' Sunvisson told Hufvudstadsbladet, adding that any Russian politician who happens to believe in disarmament is also free to participate.
According to Aurora 17 Communications Manager Rickard Wissman, the Swedish Armed Forces had no opinion on outsiders arranging peace exercises. Wissman also stressed that it is crucial that no false information is spread about Aurora 17.