A year of war in Europe

Right before dawn on 24 February 2022, the phone rang at then Chief of Joint Operations General Michael Claesson's house. "They have crossed the border, the attack has started”, said the voice on the other side of the line.
“I wasn’t surprised, I had mentally prepared myself for this, because it was my job to prepare for the worst case scenario".

A demolished town in Ukraine
A demolished town in Ukraine
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine swept through the city of Chernihiv and destroyed the entire community. General Michael Claesson was Chief of Joint Operations at the time that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine started a year ago. Currently, he is Chief of the Defence Staff. Foto: Henrik Lundqvist Rådmark/Försvarsmakten Photo: Alexander Mahmoud/ DN/TT
Soldier guarding equipment sent to Ukraine
Sweden sent the first of many support packages to Ukraine in April 2022. Photo: Antonia Sehlstedt/Swedish Armed Forces
Soldiers marching on a field
The Swedish Armed Forces takes part in the UK-led operation Interflex that carries out military basic training of Ukrainian citizens. Photo: Begav Mahmod/Swedish Armed Forces

What is now called the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine had started, but according to General Michael Claesson, the Swedish Armed Forces had looked at various risks and opportunities in the time that Russia spent building up their forces around Ukraine.

Michael Claesson, insatschef.
General Michael Claesson was Chief of Joint Operations when Russia's invasion of Ukraine started a year ago. Currently, he is Chief of the Defence Staff. Photo: Henrik Lundqvist Rådmark/Swedish Armed Forces

In late summer of 2021, Russia carried out the major exercise Zapad 21, and as it was conducted in the vicinity of Sweden, the Swedish Armed Forces adjusted the readiness of certain units and capabilities. The exercise Zapad 21 then moved on to redeploy Russian troops from other parts of Russia and Belarus to a starting point to attack along the Ukrainian border.

"We did not have a general consensus on what was happening, but the risk was considered to be high and our guard was up. We had enhanced presence at sea and in the air, and reinforced our staffs, not least the intelligence functions."

The Swedish Armed Forces’ assessments were based on the capacity and capability that was present in Sweden’s vicinity, but the thing that was missing was knowing what Putin’s intention was.

When the attack started, no major changes needed to be made. General Claesson emphasises that the organisation was on top of the situation.

Support for Ukraine

The discussion on how to support Ukraine started before the invasion, however, then there was no general political agreement on whether Sweden should deliver military materiel. As the war started, the entire Western world changed their view on this issue. Initially, there was only talk about defensive weapons, but that would soon change. In April, Sweden’s first of many support packages arrived in Ukraine.

Initially, it was mostly about PPE - helmets and body armour. Handguns and carried anti-tank weapons, such as mortars and LAW, as well as various types of ammunition. Since then, the Swedish Armed Forces has delivered anti-aircraft defence capabilities, mine clearing equipment, and winter gear.

The Swedish Armed Forces also takes part in UK-led Operation Interflex that carries out military basic training of Ukraine citizens.

The Swedish Armed Forces also contributes to the newly instated EU training support to Ukraine.

"Soon, we will also deliver many Combat Vehicle 90, train personnel and ensure that the systems can be used tactically and as an individual platform", says General Claesson.

He is hopeful as regards the outcome of the war and says that many things point to Ukraine being able to keep its sovereignty.

"But it will take a massive and united support. The leaders and people of the Western world must realise that much more than the freedom of Ukraine is at stake - this is about the most fundamental values that our part of the world stand for. Because no one knows what will happen next if we don’t stand united."