Sweden has issued a public information manual urging citizens to prepare for an ‘imminent’ war with Russia, and stock up on essential food supplies.
The brochure has been sent to 4.7 million households, informing the public how they can defend the country during war and secure water, food and heating.
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The booklet, with the working title If Crisis or War Comes, will also give guidance on dealing with threats from cyber attacks, terrorism and climate change.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea and military support for Ukrainian separatists, along with increased activity and exercises near the Baltic states and Scandinavia, have caused deep unease in Sweden.
The neutral country has begun to reverse post-Cold War defence cuts and step up military preparedness as incursions by Russian planes and submarines have sparked public debate over whether to join NATO.
Last September, Sweden held its biggest military exercise in 23 years, with war games involving 19,000 Swedish personnel and allies from Finland, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, France, Norway and the US. Last year it voted to reintroduce conscription and also said it would start negotiations to buy a US-made Patriot missile defence system.
Towns have also been ordered to dust off Cold War-era civil defence contingency plans, including ensuring that bunkers are upgraded and maintained.
The first edition of the If War Comes booklet was published during the Second World War and similar instructions have not been given out since 1961.
“We haven’t been using words such as ‘total defence’ or ‘high alert’ for 25 to 30 years or more. So the knowledge among citizens is very low,” Christina Andersson, leader of the project at the Swedish civil contingencies agency, told the Financial Times.
NATO has accused Russia of conducting a mock nuclear attack on Sweden in March 2013. Sweden’s military was unprepared and had to rely on Danish jets, operating as part of a NATO Baltic air policing mission, to respond.
Martin Kragh, head of the Russia program at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, said even if still unlikely, “what was unthinkable five years ago is no longer unthinkable.
“This has very different policy implications.”