Will US Follow in Sweden’s Footsteps and Finally Admit It’s an ‘Actor’ in Ukraine?

© AFP 2023 / TT News Agency/Anders WiklundviaSwedish air defence practice for the first time against attack helicopters as part of the military exercise (File)
Swedish air defence practice for the first time against attack helicopters as part of the military exercise (File) - Sputnik International, 1920, 03.11.2022
This week, Sweden’s top commander acknowledged that his nation is an “actor” in the Ukrainian security crisis, and said it was his job to prepare for “total defense” against an “armed attack” by, who else, Russia. Why have the Swedes been able to casually admit their involvement in Ukraine while the US and NATO haven’t? Sputnik explores.
Swedish Army Supreme Commander Micael Byden laid out a multi-year defense plan on Tuesday, announcing the Nordic nation’s plans to increase military spending to 2% of GDP by 2026, in line with NATO standards, and indicating that the military’s mission was “the total defense to prepare for what is the highest level of preparedness and armed attack.”
Perhaps most significantly, Byden admitted that by breaking its decades-old pledge of non-involvement in active military conflicts abroad and sending weapons to Kiev, Sweden had become an “actor” in the Ukrainian conflict, “at least in Russia’s eyes.”
Sweden reversed course on its ‘no offensive military aid’ policy this spring, sending over $100 million in assistance to Ukraine, ranging from anti-tank weapons, small arms, and personal protective equipment to air-to-ground missiles and artillery munitions. Swedish training assistance for Ukrainian servicemen actually began in 2018 under ‘Operation Unifier’, a training mission led by Canada.
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Sweden’s Security Doctrine vs. NATO Doctrine

In his announcement, Byden didn’t openly name Russia as his country’s main enemy, but Sweden’s geography doesn’t leave much room for imagination, with Russia now the only one of Stockholm’s Baltic Sea neighbors that isn’t already a member of NATO or aspiring to join the alliance (with Sweden itself applying for bloc membership in May).
In that regard, Stockholm’s ambiguous position vis-à-vis Russia matches the one taken by NATO, which continues to maintain its “defensive” nature (despite being used repeatedly over decades past to attack Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Libya), and to claim that the alliance has no aggressive plans against Russia. At its summit in Madrid this summer, NATO broke with decades of claims that it was not an “anti-Russian alliance” to openly state that Russia is “the most significant and direct threat to [alliance] security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area,” but again assured that the bloc’s policy is “defensive.”
In a “Setting the Record Straight” “fact sheet” put out in September, the US-led military bloc emphasized that despite its training tens of thousands of Ukrainian troops, the sending of tens of billions of dollars in military equipment to Kiev and providing the Ukrainian military with intelligence support, NATO is “not at war with Russia” and does “not seek confrontation with Russia.”
Russian officials and independent observers have challenged such assertions, calling the Ukrainian crisis a “proxy” conflict against Russia, and accusing the West of waging a hybrid “total war” aimed at destroying, breaking up and strangling the country, pumping Kiev up with weaponry and coordinating Ukrainian missile and artillery attacks against Russian forces.

Why Can Sweden Say What NATO Can't?

Why has Sweden been willing to freely admit its role as an “actor” in Ukraine, while the US and most other NATO countries continue to stumble over themselves to assure that they are not directly involved?
Part of it has to do with pragmatism. So long as the US and its allies stick to their ‘not touching you, can’t get mad’ schoolyard bully tactics, Moscow’s warnings about the threat of escalation via weapons deliveries, the concentration of NATO forces on Russia’s borders, and other dangers stemming from the Western bloc’s approach will carry less weight in Washington and other Western capitals.
Instead, every time President Putin and other Russian officials warn of the risks of the Ukrainian crisis escalating or even threatening to go nuclear due to NATO’s actions, Western officials and media immediately begin churning out claims that Russia plans to nuke everyone to smithereens, prompting the Russian Foreign Ministry to issue statements encouraging everyone to calm down.
A US B-52 Stratofortress. File photo - Sputnik International, 1920, 02.11.2022
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Another likely reason is economic. Although hundreds of Western companies have left the Russian market, and Brussels, Washington and London have taken steps to dramatically cut back reliance on Russian energy, remaining trade ties and dependence on key Russian resources prevent the West from cutting off Russia completely.
For example, while President Biden boldly announced US plans to ban Russian energy imports in March, he left out the fact that Russian uranium –the strategic resource powering America’s network of nuclear power plants, was nowhere to be found on the list of sanctioned energy resources.
The European Union has done the same thing, with Brussels’ latest anti-Russian sanctions package leaving some €210 million in Russian uranium off the list of sanctions.
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Washington and Brussels obviously realize that cutting themselves off from these key resources will escalate the energy, inflation and economic crises pummeling their nations, and could even cause rolling blackouts in some areas. Not exactly a good scene for US politicians seeking reelection.
For Sweden, the economic argument may not be as big an issue, with trade with Russia collapsing by over 70 percent this year from nearly $5 billion in 2021, according to Observatory of Economic Complexity data.
Finally, the third reason the US and most NATO countries have sought to avoid admitting their involvement in a proxy conflict with Russia is politics. If more Americans or Europeans were aware of the existential nature of Russia’s security concerns in Ukraine, and the lengths President Putin and the Russian government are prepared to go to to avoid defeat, perhaps they would ask their governments more questions about their casual readiness to become further and further entrenched in the Ukrainian crisis and risking global catastrophe.
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