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Sweden edges up military spending, says more to come

Supreme Commander of the Swedish Armed Forces General Micael Byden speaks at the University of Helsinki during his visit to Helsinki, Finland, October 26, 2015. REUTERS/Antti Aimo-Koivisto/Lehtikuva

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - The Swedish government and part of the political opposition agreed on Monday to boost defense spending by 500 million crowns ($55.7 million) this year to bolster military capabilities in the face of growing security concerns in the region.

A resurgent Russia and tensions over the conflict in Ukraine prompted politicians to call for an improvement of military capabilities that had been let to slide since the end of the Cold War.

While the funds allotted were minor, the parties also flagged that further additional spending would be considered in the budget process for the coming years.

“We have seen a deterioration of the security situation over time, so it is important to respond to that with different measures and this is a part of that strategy,” Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist told reporters.

The Nordic country’s top military chief, General Micael Byden, said earlier this year that the armed forces lacked at least 6.5 billion crowns to fully fund planned operations in the coming three years.

“We will now analyze and continue the discussions and get back to how we handle this,” said Hultqvist referring to the budget for 2018 which is due later this year.

Sweden, which is not a NATO member, cut military expenditure continuously in the years following the Cold War. In 2015, spending stood at 1.1 percent of GDP versus 2.6 percent in 1990, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri).

The government and parts of the opposition agreed in 2015 to increase the defense budget by 10.2 billion crowns for the years 2016-2020. The funds announced on Monday would be in addition to this spending.

Sweden said earlier this month it would reintroduce military conscription in 2018 as the voluntary draft failed to fill the ranks at a time of increased security concerns.

Reporting by Bjorn Rundstrom,; editing by Niklas Pollard and Pritha Sarkar