Swedish soldiers get a taste of future in NATO during Finland training

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Written By Pinang Driod
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© Reuters. Swedish soldiers operate on a Combat Vehicle 90 during training with Finnish hunting units as part of NATO’s Nordic Response exercise, in Hetta, Finland, March 5, 2024. Anders Wiklund/TT News Agency/via REUTERS

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HETTA, Finland (Reuters) – In the snows of Finland, Swedish and Finnish soldiers take part in NATO’s biggest exercise since the end of the Cold War, intended to test the military alliance’s ability to reinforce places such as the Nordic far north.

Swedish and Finnish forces have trained together for years, but NATO membership for Finland and looming membership for Sweden following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, adds a new dimension as they integrate deeper into the alliance.

“Becoming a member is like a new phase,” said Brigadier General Manu Tuominen, leading the Finnish troops participating in the exercise.

“There is still a lot for us to learn but I would say we are quite well prepared and exercises like this make us an even better member.”

The drills in the Finnish woods, part of the Steadfast Defender exercises, pit a mix of Finnish and Swedish troops in mock engagement.

Finland joined NATO last year while Sweden now stands on the cusp of joining after Hungarian lawmakers approved Sweden’s accession on Feb. 26, clearing the last hurdle before Stockholm’s historic step. Hungary’s President Tamas Sulyok signed the bill on Tuesday.

Sweden’s neutrality lasted through two world wars and the Cold War.

In the exercise, Leopard tanks in winter camouflage fired training rounds as they shifted firing positions while the infantry vanished in among the pine trees and snow.

Amid a lull in the gunfire, Swedish Brigadier General Rickard Johansson said he was looking forward to hearing more from his Finnish partners on how their first few months as full NATO members had gone.

“We are looking forward to being a member of NATO as soon as possible.”

The biggest change may be a mental one as Swedish soldiers take on board a new reality of potentially defending the borders of a NATO ally. Sweden has already said it plans to contribute to NATO’s deployment in Latvia.

“It feels safe that Sweden will join NATO, so we receive support from all other NATO members if something should happen, and we can also give support to those countries that are vulnerable,” said Felix Taws, a conscript in a Swedish mechanized unit taking part in the exercises.

“I would be ready … to go to another country and help them defend their country,” he said. 

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