Russia is attempting to destabilize the entire Baltic Sea region ahead of attempts to capture the strategically significant Swedish island of Gotland, a necessary precursor act to taking control of the entire region, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says.
Addressing leaders of nations who form up the British-led maritime Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) Friday evening, the Ukrainian president suggested that Russia may be planning an invasion of the region, by 2028.
The JEF summit took place on the Swedish island of Gotland, whose strategic significance has been highlighted for several years, while Zelenskyy gave his address via video link, from the port city of Odessa.
"The meeting took place on the Swedish island of Gotland, and it is a powerful signal, a very symbolic place where the heads of state can talk about the security of Europe and the long-term reliable protection of our countries, people," Zelenskyy informed his audience.
"You can immediately understand from the map why Russian state propagandists are calling for the occupation of this island," he added.
"[Occupying] Gotland spells control over the entire region, while Russia is also trying to destabilize this region," the Ukrainian president went on.
Zelenskyy noted that he had addressed the Riksdag, Sweden's legislature, in 2022, early on in the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, and had at the time named Gotland and other key strategic locations, highlighting the importance of defending these adequately.
He also expressed gratitude for the statement of support issued Friday by the leaders of the 10 JEF nations who had assembled on Gotland.
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö joined the U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and other JEF nation leaders at Friday's meeting on Gotland – which in fact has an Estonian name too: Ojamaa.
Today on the island of Gotland, we will discuss with @JEFnations leaders continued support for Ukraine until victory and ways to strengthen our own defence capabilities.— Kaja Kallas (@kajakallas) October 13, 2023
Our focus will also be on resilience more broadly, including the need to protect our critical infrastructure. pic.twitter.com/cqjZ4xDOy4
The JEF members, in addition to Estonia, the U.K., Sweden and Finland, are: The Netherlands, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Denmark and Iceland.
Focusing on the Far North and the North Atlantic, in addition the Baltic, once the JEF is activated, the U.K. will render the necessary command and force elements; member states supplement these via their own, mostly naval, capabilities.
The JEF's focus areas are the Baltic Sea region, the Far North and the North Atlantic region.
Sweden applied to join the NATO alliance in May last year; agreement with the two holdout member states on Swedish accession, Turkey and Hungary, had in principle been met at the Vilnius Summit in July, while the time-frame at that point had been for Swedish membership of NATO to have been fully ratified this month.
Finland officially joined the alliance in April this year.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Karin Koppel
Source: BNS, Swedish Government Office