Russia–Sweden relations

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Russia–Sweden relations
Map indicating locations of Russia and Sweden



Russia–Triennial-Sweden relations date back to the 10th century; a group of Swedish Vikings called Varangians are believed to have founded new states that were later to evolve into Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.


Embassy of Russia in Stockholm

Historically the two countries have been connected since ancient days, where Swedish Vikings traded on the big Russian rivers and started settlements that later became large cities such as Novgorod and Kiev. These settlements gave rise to mutual bonds that were also dynastical, as a Swedish king (Rurik) started a dynasty that came to rule uninterruptedly from the 8th to 16th century as depicted in the Nestors chronicle. Even the name Russia is said to emanate from Sweden as the old name for Swedish Vikings from the east were Ros.


During the middle age several wars were fought between the Swedes and Russians and 11 wars have been fought between Russia and Sweden only since the 15th century. In these wars superior Russian forces often outnumbered the Swedish, which however often stood their ground in battles such as those of Narva (1700) and Svensksund (1790) due to Sweden's capable military organisation.

The central theme of the 1600-1725 era was the struggle between Sweden and Russia for control of the Baltic, as well as territories around it. Russia was ultimately the winner, and Sweden lost its status as a major power.[1]

In 1610 the Swedish army marched into Moscow under the command of Jakob De la Gardie. From 1623 to 1709, Swedish policy, particularly under Gustavus Adolphus (1611-32) and Charles XII (1697-1718), encouraged and militarily supported Ukrainian opposition to Muscovite Russian hegemony. Gustavus Adolphus fought the Ingrian War against Russia. It ended in 1617 with the Treaty of Stolbovo, which excluded Russia from the Baltic Sea. Sweden's most dramatic defeat on the battleground came in 1709 at the battle of Poltava, in an attempt to second the Ukrainian rebellion leader Mazepa.[2]

Great Northern War[edit]

Main article: Great Northern War

In 1700, a triple alliance of Denmark–Norway, SaxonyPoland–Lithuania and Russia launched a threefold attack on the Swedish protectorate of Swedish Holstein-Gottorp and provinces of Livonia and Ingria, aiming to draw advantage as Sweden was unaligned and ruled by a young and inexperienced king, thus initiating the Great Northern War. Leading the Swedish army against the alliance Charles won multiple victories despite being usually significantly outnumbered. A major victory over a Russian army some three times the size in 1700 at the Battle of Narva compelled Peter the Great to sue for peace which Charles then rejected. In 1706 Swedish forces under general Carl Gustav Rehnskiöld defeated over a combined army of Saxony and Russia at the Battle of Fraustadt. Russia was now the sole remaining hostile power.[3]

Charles' subsequent march on Moscow met with initial success as victory followed victory, the most significant of which was the Battle of Holowczyn where the smaller Swedish army routed a Russian army twice the size. The campaign ended with disaster when the Swedish army suffered heavy losses to a Russian force more than twice its size at Poltava, Charles had been incapacitated by a wound prior to the battle rendering him unable to take command. The defeat was followed by Surrender at Perevolochna. Charles spent the following years in exile in the Ottoman Empire before returning to lead an assault on Norway, trying to evict the Danish king from the war once more in order to aim all his forces at the Russians. Two campaigns met with frustration and ultimate failure, concluding with his death at the Siege of Fredriksten in 1718.[4]

At the time, most of the Swedish Empire was under foreign military occupation, though Sweden itself was still free. This situation was later formalized, albeit moderated in the subsequent Treaty of Nystad. The close saw not only the end of the Swedish Empire but also of its powerful monarchy and war machine.[5][6]

In the Great Northern War, Swedish prisoners of war were sent in considerable numbers to Siberia, where they numbered perhaps 25% of the population of Tobolsk, the capital of Siberia, and some settled permanently. St Petersburg, which is located at the same place as the originally Swedish city Nyen in the province Ingermanland, was also built to a great extent by Swedish prisoners of war. When Estonia was under Swedish rule in 1558–1710, the territory was later ceded to Russia in 1721. All Estonian-Swedes from the island of Hiiumaa were forced to move to New Russia (present day Ukraine) by Catherine II of Russia, where they formed their very own village Gammalsvenskby.

Napoleonic wars[edit]

After the last Russo-Swedish war ended in 1809, Finland was handed over as a Russian territory (Finland gained independence in 1917). Napoleon's invasion of Swedish Pomerania in January 1812 led to a rapprochement between Sweden and Russia that included Russian recognition of Swedish rule over Norway.

20th and 21st centuries[edit]

The Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg between July and December 1944 issued protective passports and housed Jews, saving tens of thousands of Jewish lives in Hungary. In 1944 he was arrested in Hungary and imprisoned in Moscow where he is supposed to have died.[7][8] This occurred in the days of the Soviet Union, but the issue has later even been discussed between Russia and Sweden.

On 27 October 1981, U-137, a Soviet submarine of whiskey class (according to NATO terminology) ran aground on Swedish territorial waters near Karlskrona. Early morning on the day after local fishermen spotted the submarine standing on the rocks in the Blekinge archipelago, an episode commonly labelled "Whiskey on the rocks". At this occasion Swedish naval forces took stand along the naval borders of Sweden and it was later revealed that the Swedish Premier Torbjörn Fälldin had issued order to shoot to the navy, should approaching Soviet navy cross the Swedish sea border. Swedish defence research also confirmed there could be nuclear weapons aboard the submarine. Over the years, there have been many submarine incidents where the Soviet Union has tried to collect military information from Sweden, including sightings of Soviet submarines along the Swedish coastline and espionage affairs.

Relations between the two nations worsened after Moscow had rejected plans for a major EU-Russia summit in Stockholm. Then-Russian president Dmitry Medvedev believed that the summit should take place in Brussels because he believed it was a more neutral place for the summit.[9] Another source of tension in the Russo-Swedish relations is Russia's recognition of the two breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which broke away from Georgia after the 2008 war in South Ossetia. Sweden's then-foreign minister Carl Bildt condemned Russia's actions, and compared it to that of Adolf Hitler's pre-Second World War aggression.[10] Swedish politician Jan Björklund has also suggested that military units should be put on Gotland in case of a war between Russia and Sweden.[11]

The Nord Stream gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany was the topic of Swedish Defence Research Agency's Robert L. Larsson's 110-page study "Nord Stream, Sweden and Baltic Sea Security" (2007) that found a number of concerning aspects in the Nord Stream project.[12] The Swedish Defence Commission, however, did not mention any military implications of the pipeline in its December 2007 report on security issues and instead called for strict environmental requirements and cooperation between Baltic Sea states on surveillance.[13][14][15] The Swedish government gave its approval of the project in November 2009.[16]

Russian bombers have operated close to Swedish airspace on a number of occasions after the Ukrainian crisis and this has caused a discussion in Sweden to scale up its defences which also happened in 2015 with acquisitions of more Gripen aircraft, submarines, anti aircraft missiles and deployment of troops to Gotland in the Baltic Sea.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jill Lisk, The struggle for supremacy in the Baltic, 1600-1725 (1968).
  2. ^ Gary Dean Peterson, Warrior kings of Sweden: the rise of an empire in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (McFarland, 2007).
  3. ^ R.M. Hatton, Charles XII of Sweden (1968).
  4. ^ F.G. Bengtsson, The Life of Charles XII, King of Sweden, 1697-1718 (1960).
  5. ^ Cronholm, Neander Nicolas (1902). "37". A history of Sweden from the earliest times to the present day. New York. 
  6. ^ R. Nisbet Bain, Charles XII and the Collapse of the Swedish Empire, 1682-1719 (1899) online.
  7. ^ "Raoul Wallenberg". Yad Vashem. Archived from the original on 7 February 2007. Retrieved 12 February 2007. who saved the lives of tens of thousands of Jews in Budapest during World War II ... and put some 15,000 Jews into 32 safe houses. 
  8. ^ "Raoul Wallenberg, Life and Work". New York Times. 6 September 1991. Retrieved 12 February 2007. The K.G.B. promised today that it would let agents break their vow of silence to help investigate the fate of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who vanished after being arrested by the Soviets in 1945. 
  9. ^ "Relations between Sweden and Russia get frosty". IceNews. 9 July 2009. Retrieved 9 August 2012. 
  10. ^ "Sweden invokes Hitler in condemning Russian assault". The Local. AFP. 9 August 2008. Retrieved 9 August 2012. 
  11. ^ Lindström, Anna (6 July 2011). "Kritik mot Björklunds utspel om rysk invasion". Expressen (in Swedish). Retrieved 9 August 2012. 
  12. ^ Larsson, Robert L. (March 2007). "Nord Stream, Sweden and Baltic Sea Security" (PDF). Swedish Defence Research Agency. Retrieved 9 August 2012. 
  13. ^ "Försvarsberedningen om gasledningen". Sveriges Radio. 4 December 2007. Retrieved 9 August 2012. 
  14. ^ "Summary of report by the Swedish Defence Commission". Ministry of Defence (Sweden), the Swedish Defence Commission. 4 December 2007. Retrieved 22 November 2011. 
  15. ^ "Ds 2007:46 Säkerhet i samverkan" (PDF) (in Swedish). The Swedish Defence Commission. 4 December 2007. Retrieved 22 November 2011. 
  16. ^ "Government says 'yes' to Nord Stream's gas pipeline". Ministry of the Environment (Sweden), Ministry of Enterprise, Energy and Communications (Sweden). 5 November 2009. Retrieved 11 November 2011. 
  17. ^ Cenciotti, David (13 November 2013). "Russia Just Pretend-Bombed Sweden—Again". War is Boring. Retrieved 13 November 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Birgegård, Ulla; Sandomirskaia, Irina. In Search of an Order: Mutual Representations in Sweden & Russia during the Early Age of Reason (2004), 200pp.
  • Englund, Peter. Battle That Shook Europe: Poltava & the Birth of the Russian Empire (2003), 287pp.
  • Lobanov-Rostovsky, Andrei. Russia and Europe, 1789-1825 (Greenwood Press, 1968) online
  • Metcalf, Michael F. Russia, England and Swedish party politics 1762-1766: the interplay between great power diplomacy and domestic politics during Sweden's age of liberty (Rowman and Littlefield, 1977).
  • Nordling, Carl. "Capturing ‘The Gibraltar of the North:’How Swedish Sveaborg was taken by the Russians in 1808." Journal of Slavic Military Studies 17.4 (2004): 715-725.
  • Porshnev, B. F. Muscovy & Sweden in the Thirty Years' War, 1630-1635 (1996), 256pp. excerpt
  • Wilson, Derek. "Poltava: The battle that changed the world." History Today 59.3 (2009): 23+.

External links[edit]