Two weeks after Sweden and Finland announced they plan to seek NATO membership, the USS Kearsarge has docked at Stockholm for military exercises and as a show of force for the benefit of Russia.
The battleship carries 26 warplanes along with 2,400 sailors and Marines and stands as a strong signifier of Western commitment to assisting Ukraine as it sits alongside the tour boats that are typically present at the port.
Swedish armed forces supreme commander Micael Byden said that no one can miss the sight of the “big American ship here in our city.” He said the Kearsarge has more capabilities than he could “gather in a garrison.”
The show of NATO power in perennially neutral Sweden is foreshadowing of what its membership in the alliance could mean for checking potential Russian aggression in the Nordic region.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Gen. Mark Milley said that although Russia has its Baltic fleet, if Sweden and Finland do join NATO the Baltic Sea will become a NATO lake outside of St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad. He said that it would be militarily “very problematic for them.”
But, as NATOs expansion onto Russia’s border was cited by the Kremlin for the invasion of Ukraine, a move like this could inflame hostilities in Europe and put Sweden and Finland in serious danger of facing a similar outcome.
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson appeared with Milley at a press conference aboard the Kearsarge and took care to express her country’s interest in the defensive mission of NATO.
During the period until they can formally enter NATO, Sweden and Finland have asked for additional security assurances from the alliance and the U.S.
NATO’s refusal to send troops into Ukraine points out the stark difference between the commitment to friendly nations in comparison to member states. Under Article 5, an attack on any member nation is deemed to be an attack on all.
The exercises planned for the Kearsarge are intended to train NATO troops as well as those from Sweden and Finland in amphibious assault maneuvers. That type of operation is highly complex and requires precise coordination of air, land, and naval units who have been rigorously drilled.
According to the plan for the exercises, thousands of personnel from 16 nations will practice seizing a beachhead in the Stockholm archipelago.
Although it is possible Putin did not anticipate Sweden and Finland would seek to join NATO as a result of his invasion of neighboring Ukraine, he is now facing the imminent likelihood that the alliance is going to surround even more of Russia’s western borders.
NATO has meanwhile scheduled other exercises with the Swedish and Finnish militaries that were not planned before the Russian invasion of Ukraine commenced.