Sweden prepares to shut airspace to Russian planes

Sweden is preparing to quickly close Swedish airspace to Russian flights, Swedish EU Minister Hans Dahlgren said on Sunday.

Sweden prepares to shut airspace to Russian planes
The Russian presidential plane Iljuschin Il-96. More EU countries are moving to ban Russian aircraft from its airspace. (Photo by ALESSANDRO DELLA VALLE / POOL / AFP)

“It is now absolutely necessary to proceed with further tough measures to isolate Russia,” Dahlgren told public service radio SR.

The Minister said the most effective course of action would be for EU countries to make a joint decision.

Sweden will push for such a flight ban at a meeting of EU foreign ministers scheduled later today, which could form part of the latest package of sanctions against Russia.

READ ALSO: INTERVIEW: How could Russia’s war in Ukraine affect Sweden?

Many EU member states have already closed their airspaces to Russian aircraft, while a more concrete decision could soon follow.

“We want this to happen as quickly as possible and the best and fastest way is if we can get a common EU decision,” said Dahlgren.

“The background is, of course, that we want to go ahead with even more and sharper efforts to isolate Russia. One such effort is to close Swedish airspace and, better still, the whole of European airspace to Russian flights,” he went on to say.

“At the same time, preparations are underway in Sweden to be able to take a decision as quickly as possible that would ban Russian flights over Swedish territory.

“Some formalities are required, but it could be as quickly as a few hours or a day at the most,” he added.

Dahlgren is convinced that many countries will close their airspace.

“I think there will be a lot of support for this,” the EU Minister claimed.

Denmark, Germany and Italy on Sunday also said it would close their airspace to Russian planes, joining other European countries in ramping up sanctions against Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

In addition, Finland, Britain, Poland, Bulgaria, Czech Republic and Romania are among the nations who have decided to shut off their airspaces to Russia’s aircraft.

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Six months on, what do we know about the Nord Stream blasts?

Built to carry Russian gas to Germany, the Nord Stream pipelines have been mired in controversy even before Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Six months on, what do we know about the Nord Stream blasts?

Nord Stream 2, the newer of the two ducts, was never put into operation as Berlin pulled the plug on it days before Moscow’s troops entered Ukraine on February 24th, 2022.

Nord Stream 1, which had been a main conduit carrying gas to Germany in recent years, was mothballed when Russian energy giant Gazprom suspended supplies last August.

But the pipelines sprung back into the headlines when huge leaks were uncovered in September, with both the West and Russia calling it sabotage.

Almost six months later, here is what we know so far about the mysterious explosions:

What happened?

Four leaks emerged on the two Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea off the coast of the Danish island of Bornholm at the end of September, with seismic institutes reporting that they had recorded two underwater explosions
prior to the leaks appearing.

The pipelines, it turned out, were ruptured by subsea explosives, seven months after Russian forces invaded Ukraine.
While the leaks were in international waters, two of them were in the Danish exclusive economic zone and two in the Swedish one.

The incident was all the more unusual as the pipelines are located in a closely monitored area with a multitude of military ships with significant intelligence techniques patrolling.

The Nord Stream pipeline explosions could have serious consequences for wildlife in the Baltic Sea. File photo: Forsvaret/Ritzau Scanpix

In the immediate aftermath of the explosions, Russia directly accused the United States and Britain of carrying out the blasts.

US President Joe Biden has described the Russian allegations as “disinformation and lies”.

Like other Western leaders, Biden has called the explosions “a deliberate act of sabotage” and vowed to work with allies to find out what happened.

Britain has called Russia’s allegations “false claims on an epic scale”. Germany, Sweden and Denmark have since been investigating the case.

What has emerged from news reports?

In February, veteran US investigative journalist Seymour Hersh said the US was behind the blasts and that Norway had assisted.

The White House dismissed Hersh’s report, which cited an unnamed source, as”complete fiction”. Oslo has also rejected the allegations as false.

On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that US officials had seen new intelligence indicating that a “pro-Ukrainian group” was responsible for the sabotage.

The NYT article said US officials had no evidence implicating Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the pipeline bombing, and it did not identify the source of the intelligence or the group involved.

Separately, German media reports published late Tuesday said German investigators believed that the unidentified group was made up of five men and one woman using professionally falsified passports.

According to the German reports, a yacht was used in the incident and was rented out by a company based in Poland, belonging to two Ukrainians.

READ ALSO: Nord Stream: Investigators link Ukrainian-owned yacht to sabotage, reports claim

What do investigators say?

German federal prosecutors confirmed they raided a vessel in January, and had seized objects and uncovered traces from the ship.

Their search was carried out over the “suspicion that the ship in question could have been used to transport explosive devices that exploded on September 26th 2022 at the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 gas pipelines in the
Baltic Sea”, they said.

The prosecutors said however that no firm conclusion could be drawn as yet on the perpetrators of the incident, their motives or on whether it was state orchestrated.

What do analysts say?

The sabotage constituted a form of hybrid warfare, say some analysts, which can take place outside a classic military setting.

“Hybrid warfare is by definition about unattributed or ambiguous and shady acts. More evidence is likely to emerge,” said a Western expert who declined to be named.

Professor Veli-Pekka Tynkkynen of Helsinki University noted that the “fact there was so little evidence shows it must have been done by a state actor” as it requires “skills that only military organisations have”.

He believed that Russia had the most to gain from the blasts as it “increases fear and raises the bar for Europe to provide aid to Ukraine”.

In contrast, Ukraine — be it official or not — stood to lose political support by carrying out such an act.

A French observer speaking on condition of anonymity said he believed “we will never know what happened”.

“One of the two camps knows that it didn’t do it and that the other has sent it a message.”

READ ALSO: Who is behind the Nord Stream Baltic pipeline attack?