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'Historic Moment' as Sweden Remilitarizes Its Largest Baltic Island

© REUTERS / Soren Andersson/TT News AgencyA squad from Skaraborg Armoured Regiment, currently training on the island of Gotland in the Baltic, patrols outside Visby's 13th century city wall, Sweden
A squad from Skaraborg Armoured Regiment, currently training on the island of Gotland in the Baltic, patrols outside Visby's 13th century city wall, Sweden - Sputnik International
Although the 350 soldiers are still a far cry from the 25,000-strong force that was present on Gotland only several decades ago, the measure nevertheless marks a turning point in Sweden's military doctrine.

After more than a decade of demilitarization, the P 18 regiment on Gotland has been reinstated with much pomp, Swedish national broadcaster SVT reported, calling the moment "historic," as the Baltic island has once again welcomed regular troops.

"Security-wise, we live in a reality of unpredictability and quick changes, even in our immediate vicinity. To be able to meet every threat and every challenge, we must be present where our abilities are most needed. This applies to Gotland. Keep the colors high!" Supreme Commander Micael Bydén said during the ceremony, stressing that Gotland has been a place of strategic importance for centuries and remains so today.

Bydén attended the formal ceremony on Gotland alongside King Carl XVI Gustaf, Prime Minister Stefan Löfvén and Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist.

​The "aggression and unpredictability" rhetoric also featured in the speech made by Prime Minister Stefan Löfvén. According to him, the message is clear: Sweden aims to defend itself.

READ MORE: Can't Get Enough: Sweden Wants to Double Its Nuclear Bunkers

Over the past several decades Sweden's military spending has dwindled from 3.1 percent of GDP in 1981 to a measly 1.1 percent in 2015. Likewise, the number of regiments and flotillas has been halved from 40 to only 20 since 1990, the largest reduction occurring at the beginning of the 2000s. P 18 was disbanded in 2005, only to reappear today.

"It's a historic moment and this means a lot for Gotland," local Sune Jakobsson told SVT.

Together with the battle group, the regiment will include about 350 people. Not all of them, however, will be stationed on the island simultaneously. P 18 will feature about 150 permanent employees, the rest will be temporary staff or draftees. The Gotland regiment is expected to become fully operational by 2020, when a new garrison at the Tofta shooting range will be completed. The cost has been estimated at around SEK 780 million ($89 million).

READ MORE: Sweden to Issue 'If Crisis or War Comes' Booklet For First Time in Decades

Incidentally, Gotland was the first Swedish province to introduce compulsory military service in 1811, after the Finnish War of 1808-1809 with the Russian Empire, which for Sweden resulted in the loss of Finland.

The remilitarization of Gotland is based on the 2015 defense agreement, when the Swedish government decided on a permanent military presence on the island in light of a "deteriorating security situation" and an "increasingly assertive Russia."

Earlier this month, Sweden entered a trilateral defense agreement with neighboring Finland and the US. This agreement includes, among other things, a major US troop presence in Scandinavia.

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