June 22, 2017 / 1:10 PM / 2 years ago

Sweden says to join British-led JEF military force

Sweden's Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist speaks during a news conference in Riga, Latvia March 31, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden’s centre-left government said on Thursday it had decided its military would participate in the British-led Joint Expeditionary Force, a rapid response unit which can support NATO or U.N. troops anywhere in the world.

Non-aligned Sweden has been growing increasingly concerned about its security following Russia’s annexation of the Crimea in 2014 and has been edging closer to NATO while ruling out full-membership.

“Cooperating with other countries will give us the ability to develop our military capabilities and at the same time build inter-operability and security with others,” Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist said in a statement.

The coalition government has boosted spending on defence and re-introduced the draft among other measures to boost Sweden’s military capabilities.

Last year, Sweden and Finland signed an agreement to let NATO forces operate on its soil for training or in a crisis.

Sweden will join Norway, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Netherlands as part of the JEF force. It will be the only non-NATO member.

In 2013, Sweden’s own military questioned its ability to defend itself for more than a week against a Russian attack, but the current Social Democrat-led government has ruled out joining NATO.

Swedes remain strongly against NATO membership, opinion polls show.

Reporting by Simon Johnson; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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