Europe's Baltic Sea region is seeing increased activity as NATO soldiers continue military exercises in the area.

Growing tensions between Russia and the West concerning the Baltic - an area once mainly ruled by the Soviet Union - means Moscow's military build-up is just as forceful. 

NATO plans to station thousands of additional troops near Europe's borders with Russia in one of the biggest military expansions in the area since the end of the Cold War. 

It is important to have a value-based view of what we are doing in international politics. If we don't, we open up the door for things that could be very negative.

Peter Hultqvist, Swedish Defence Minister

Although Sweden does not border Russia, Vladimir Putin's ambitions in nearby Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have led Stockholm to deploy a permanent military presence on its strategically important island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea.

In 2014, a Russian submarine was reported to have entered Swedish waters - its navy had failed to detect the submarine.

Russia has continued to violate Swedish airspace since the incident and Sweden's military budget was increased last year.

Yet the government remains firmly opposed to joining NATO, preferring to keep its non-aligned status

We speak to Swedish Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist on Talk to Al Jazeera about security in the Baltic region, why he still believes Sweden should stay out of NATO - despite regional tensions - and whether Russia poses a threat to Sweden. 

"We never talk about threats in that way," Hultqvist said.

"We talk about realities and things that have happened. The fact is, they wanted Crimea. They have more military equipment today, they [execute] more complex exercises ... they have more of a presence in our part of the world.

"We are seeing more intelligence activities. We can see that they are doing more things and that is something that we have to react to in the way that we are now upgrading our military capabilities and deepening our cooperation with other countries." 

Hultqvist said the increased Russian activity in the Baltic Sea region should be of concern to all countries in the area and not just Sweden. Using the annexation of Crimea as an example, Hultqvist said Russia's willingness to use military power as a means to achieve political goals - in breach of international law - emboldens Sweden's decision to support EU sanctions against Russia, and should do the same for others in the region. 

With Russian interest in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia increasing, Al Jazeera asked Hultqvist whether Sweden would answer requests for help from any of these countries should Russia threaten peace in the area. 

"Different countries [carry out] exercise with each other and give information to each other," Hultqvist said in response.

"When you create interoperability, you signal to the world that this is something that can be used in a specific situation. However, we try to manoeuvre in a way that creates stabilisation in the area, to have peace in the future. But we must heighten the threshold together.

"There's a new security environment and we have to behave from that position," he said, before talking about Sweden's increased military budget and recent presence on Gotland Island.

"We think it is necessary to have a battle group on the island of Gotland and we started with this a year before. We have more exercises on the island, we have a presence at the airport and a presence of our naval forces in the area. Gotland is very important and is strategically positioned ... if you control Gotland, you control the sea and air spaces between us and the Baltic states." 

In light of US President-elect Donald Trump potentially moving ahead with claims he feels the United States could, and should, be closer to Russia and conduct more business with Vladimir Putin, Al Jazeera asked Hultqvist what dangers could be in place for Europe.

"The most important thing is that all countries respect international law," he said. "It was against international law to make the annexation of Crimea and that is a very basic principle.

"The Swedish government is very clear on that position. International law must be respected. I think this is something that is important to the US and the Obama administration worked on it to build a strong transatlantic link with Europe and to support the sanctions in the European Union."

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Source: Al Jazeera