Russian warplanes reportedly armed with nuclear weapons violated Swedish airspace in what has been described as “a deliberate act of intimidation”.
The four jets, two Sukhoi SU 27s and two Sukhoi SU 24s, took off from the Russian forward air base in Kaliningrad on March 2, heading for the Swedish island of Gotland.
Russian aircraft routinely test the response times of air forces NATO countries and non-aligned states such as Sweden and Finland.
But the Swedish Air Force had been on high alert due to the recent Russian attack on Ukraine and spotted the planes early on.
But it has only today (March 30) emerged that the Russian aircraft are believed to have been armed with live nuclear weapons at the time.
According to TV4 Nyheter, the two Sukhoi SU 24 attack aircraft were carrying nuclear bombs during the incursion.
Military expert Stefan Ring told the network that the provocative act was a reminder to Sweden that Russia had nuclear weapons and was not afraid to use them.
Swedish Air Force Chief, Carl-Johan Edstrom said: “We assess it as a conscious action, which is very serious especially as you are a country at war.”
He added that, while the Russian pilots may have been on an innocent exercise and ended up in Swedish airspace as the result of a navigational error the incursion appeared to be deliberate.
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The Russian planes were only in Swedish airspace for a short time – perhaps a minute – before returning to Russian territory.
Nevertheless, Edstrom said: “This is unprofessional and irresponsible behaviour from the Russian side.”
Sweden is not a full NATO member, but Swedish troops have participated in NATO-led missions in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan (ISAF) and Libya in the past.
The shocking incident came just days after Russian leader Vladimir Putin threatened military action against Sweden and neighbouring Finland if either of them chose to join NATO.
A recent poll by Swedish public broadcaster SVT put support for full membership of NATO at an historic high of 41%.
Late last year, the Scandinavian state boosted its defence budget by around 40%, with an extra 27 billion Swedish kronor (just over £2billion) to be added to the country’s defence spending from 2021 to 2025.
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