Sweden, Relations with

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The establishment, starting in the late eighth century, of a number of Swedish settlements in the eastern Baltic led to regular interaction with Eastern Slavs. Staraya Ladoga (Aldeigjuborg) became an important Scandinavian center on the southeastern shore of Lake Ladoga, but the Varangians gradually extended their operations southeastward along the Novgorod-Kiev axis. Many of them served in Gardariki (the "land of towns") territory as dukes, merchants, and mercenaries and were collectively known as Rus (the basis for the word Russia ). The local princes, starting with Rurik (Rörik) who became the ruler of Novgorod (Holmgard), had exclusively Scandinavian names.

Even as the Scandinavian elite became Slavicized by the tenth century, a special relationshipin the form of dynastic marriages and joint military campaignscontinued into the early twelfth century. However, almost endemic conflict soon followed as Finland became a focus of the expansionist impulses of Sweden and the Grand Duchy of Novgorod alike. The Karelian tribes were baptized by Novgorod, whereas Swedish crusades into southwestern Finland began in the 1150s. By the late thirteenth century, the Swedes reached Karelia and established the fortress of Viborg (Vyborg in Russian), as well as Landskrona in the Neva estuary. The 1323 Treaty of Orekhovets/Nöteborg between the two rivals drew a border stretching across central Finland to the Viborg district, but did little to stall Swedish expansionism into northern Finland. A century and a half of relative calm was followed by renewed warfare in the late fifteenth century, but protracted peace negotiations with the newly independent Vasa Sweden and a growth of trade led to a gradual normalization of relations after the 1520s.

The weakening of the Livonian Order created a power vacuum in the eastern Baltic and the basis for renewed conflict between Sweden and Muscovy. Gustav Vasa's 1555 attack on Russia marked the beginning of Swedish aspirations for regional hegemony. The "Great Eastern Program" was designed to turn Sweden into a pan-Baltic power that could enrich itself by taxing the rapidly growing trade flows between Eastern and Western Europe. The Livonian War of 15331584 ultimately left Sweden in control of the northern coast of Estonia, while Muscovy gained temporary control of Narva, which became the country's leading export port. The Teusina/Tiavzino peace (1595) formally recognized Swedish control of Finland.

Sweden intervened during the Russian Time of Troubles, initially in support of the Moscow government but soon as a conqueror of the Novgorod region (in 16111612). Following the failure of efforts to place a Swedish candidate on the Russian throne, Gustav Adolf (Gustavus Adolphus) sought to force a union between Novgorod and Sweden and directed his expansionist attention at the Kola and White Sea coast, albeit unsuccessfully. The 1617 treaty of Stolbovo marked the peak of Swedish expansion into Russia, leaving the country in control of Ingria (Ingermanland; roughly today's St. Petersburg region) and the Western half of Lake Ladoga. Novgorod was returned to Russia.

Russian-Swedish relations were strong after the war, and the new Romanov rulers subsidized Swedish involvement in the Thirty Years' War in 16301634, among other things. In spite of a steady expansion of trade, political ties deteriorated under Queen Christina. Russia renewed its attempts to gain access to the Baltic in the 1650s and attacked Sweden in 1658. In spite of some initial territorial gains, the Peace of Kardis in 1661 ratified the prewar status quo. The closing decades of the century saw a steady expansion in Russian trade via Swedish possessions, even in the face of periodic diplomatic disputes. Tsar Peter I (the Great) in the late 1690s managed to assemble an international alliance designed to challenge Swedish supremacy in the Baltic region. The Great Northern War of 17001721 led to the Swedish loss of its Baltic provinces and the establishment of Russian hegemony in the region.

Russia in the eighteenth century took an active interest in Sweden's internal affairs. Although Russian engagement on the Ottoman front led to alliance treaties with Sweden, Swedish revanchism triumphed at home, and a campaign against Russia from 1741 to 1743 sought to regain the lost eastern territories. The catastrophic war was followed by the loss of southeastern Finland to Russia. A defensive alliance was signed between the two countries, and the absolutist regime of Gustav(us) III in the 1770s sought Russian support for a Swedish conquest of Norway. A lack of success eventually led to another war against Russia from 1788 to 1790. The Peace of Värälä reaffimed the prewar status quo, while Gustav crowned his career by establishing an alliance with Russia.

Sweden and Russia were allies against Napoleon until the French managed to use the Treaty of Tilsit to induce Alexander I to conquer Finland in the last Russo-Swedish war of 18081809 (Treaty of Fredrikshamn). Royal attempts to continue the war were made impossible by a bourgeois revolution in Sweden. The French Marshall Jean Baptiste Bernadotte (Karl Johan) was elected Swedish heir to the throne in 1810 in order to gain Napoleon's support for the reconquest of Finland. However, he instead turned to France's opponents in order to make possible a Swedish takeover of Norway. In 1812, Sweden declared itself neutral in European conflicts, but a secret alliance was signed with Russia.

Popular Russophobia increased in the 1830s and 1840s, and Oskar I began to pursue closer ties with Great Britain and Denmark. A border dispute with Russia in the 1850s led Sweden to seek British-French guarantees. The two powers in 1856 forced Russia to demilitarize the Åland Islands. Anti-Russian sentiment was further boosted by the Polish uprisings and the Russification measures adopted in Finland toward the end of the century. In spite of this, the government defined its neutrality even more strictly in 1885. Nonetheless, Russia's recognition of Norwegian independence in 1905 was caused by suspicions of pan-Nordic union and Sweden's pro-German stance.

The gradually more tense political relations did not prevent the establishment of growing economic and cultural ties. Russia accounted for 5 to 6 percent of Swedish imports in the late nineteenth century, but in the years leading up to the October Revolution, Russia was the third-or fourth-largest destination of Swedish exports. Swedish direct investment grew and, for instance, Nobel Industries developed a substantial presence in Russia. Sweden harbored many intellectual refugees from Russia.

Sweden remained neutral in World War I, in spite of popular pressures for an alliance with Germany. The neutral position allowed Sweden, as the first Western power, to establish relations with the new Bolshevik regime. A Swedish-Soviet trade treaty was signed in the autumn of 1918, although formal diplomatic recognition only followed in 1924. Ties again deteriorated in the 1930s but, following the rise of fascism, Sweden backed Soviet membership in the League of Nations. In spite of an official position of neutrality during World War II, Sweden openly supported its neighbor during the Soviet-Finnish Winter War of 19391940. A brief conflict with the Soviets in 1942 followed Soviet efforts to sink Swedish freight ships carrying German goods. Another source of tension came from the flight of many Balts (mainly Latvians and Estonians) to Sweden. While 160 Baltic military officers were returned to the USSR in 1945 and 1946, civilian refugees were permitted to stay in Sweden.

The Soviets strongly opposed Swedish efforts to establish Nordic security cooperation after the war, and Sweden returned to its policy of nonalignment, albeit with secret cooperation with the West. Moscow valued Sweden's decision not to acquire nuclear weapons, and the two countries often found themselves adopting similar positions regarding international disputes. Sweden gained further favor by staying out of the European Economic Community and by supporting the ESCE (European Coal and Steel Community) process. Growing tensions were caused by Afghanistan and sightings of Soviet submarines in Swedish waters, one of which was stranded in 1981. Ties were normalized under Gorbachev. Commercial relations were relatively modest during the Soviet and post-Soviet period.

See also: denmark, relations with; foreign trade; great northern war; livonian war; narva, treaty of; norway, relations with; nystadt, treaty of; stolbovo, treaty of


Kirby, David. (1990). Northern Europe in the Early Modern Period: The Baltic World, 14921772. London: Longman.

Kirby, David. (1995). The Baltic World, 17721993: Europe's Northern Periphery in an Age of Change. London: Longman.

Jarmo T. Kotilaine

Sweden, relations with

views updated May 23 2018

Sweden, relations with. Sweden became a great power in northern Europe in the 17th cent., a matter of importance to England on account of both Baltic naval stores and Swedish championship of the ‘protestant’ cause. Charles XII further enhanced Sweden's importance, and the British were soon torn between concern over Russian advances in the Baltic and suspicion of Charles's own ambitions. Under George I (with his Hanoverian interests) the British briefly became the enemy of both. In the end fears of Russian preponderance meant that Britain played a leading role in seeking peace between Sweden and her western enemies, an outcome assisted by the death of Charles XII in 1718. Sweden, however, was soon in decline, and Britain enjoyed only limited success in the bewilderingly complicated rivalries in the Baltic region in the 18th cent. Between 1812 and 1814 she played a leading role in the transfer of Norway from Denmark to Sweden, as a reward for the Swedes casting their lot against Napoleon. In 1814 the British put pressure on the Norwegians to accept the change, while trying to secure for them as much autonomy as possible.

C. J. Bartlett

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Relations with Sweden

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