[A 160-man combat team from Skaraborg Armoured Regiment trains on the island of Gotland in the Baltic deploy in Visby harbour, Sweden. File photo. RT News Agency via Reuters.]
Stockholm: Officials in Sweden have been ordered to ensure that they are ready for war as fears of a Russian invasion grow.
The country's Civil Contingencies Agency has sent out a letter to all local authorities telling them they must be better equipped to respond to the threat of war. It is believed the letter was prompted by Sweden returning to their old Cold War-era 'Total Defence Strategy'.
The strategy places emphasis on defending the nation from overseas threats by taking economic and civilian precautions as well as military ones, Mail Online News reported.
It was ordered to be implemented last December citing a deterioration in the 'security situation.'
According to Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, the letter sent out reads: 'This places a high demand on... operational speed, decision making, information sharing, crisis communication, flexibility, robustness and handling secret information.'
But despite the instructions, the MSB's information head Svante Werger said: 'There is nothing to indicate that war is likely, but we have the government's mandate to plan for it.'
However, there has been a backlash against the letter, with some local leaders saying the requirements placed on municipalities were unrealistic.
Meanwhile, others have accused the Swedish government of using the excuse of Russian aggression to justify spending more on the country's military.
The letter comes as officials on Gotland, Sweden's militarily strategic island in the Baltic Sea, said they likely would turn down a Russian request to rent harbor space after the government warned it could harm the country's defense and political interests.
'Following the information we got from the government, we very likely will say 'no,'' Tommy Gardell, head of the island council's technical board, said. 'We will align with the government.'
Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist said renting out harbor space on Gotland — considered of strategic importance for the military control of the Baltic Sea — would 'negatively affect Sweden's defense and political interests.' He did not elaborate, citing security reasons.
Tensions in the region have grown between Baltic NATO members and Moscow, including reports of airspace violations by Russian military aircraft.
Non-aligned Sweden and Finland have watched with increasing trepidation, stepping up their military activity with cross-border exercises and drills with NATO countries.
In September, Sweden stationed permanent troops on Gotland, which Hultqvist described as sending a signal after Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea and its 'increasing pressure' on the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
Meanwhile, in October Sweden's neighbors, Finland accused the Kremlin of running a 'systematic lying campaign.'
It shares an 833-mile border with Russia, but questions over the legality of the country's independence have made Finnish leaders uneasy.