By Nikolaj Skydsgaard
BORNHOLM, Denmark (Reuters) – When the Nord Stream gas pipelines ruptured near the island of Bornholm last month, residents felt the Ukraine war move a lot closer, exposing the isolation of Denmark’s easternmost point and renewing fears of Russian aggression.
The rocky Baltic Sea island of about 40,000 people has a strategically important location between Denmark’s capital Copenhagen and the Russian city of Kaliningrad.
“The situation with Nord Stream 1 and 2, it renewed our crisis awareness, and there are many residents who might think it came a little bit close,” said Ulrik Skytte, Chief of Bornholm’s Home Guard, a volunteer branch of the Danish military.
World leaders called damages to the pipelines, which connect Russia and Germany under the sea, an act of sabotage, but it still remains unclear who might be behind the detonations.
“The seriousness has dawned on all of us, and therefore Bornholm’s location in the Baltic Sea has become much clearer and much more important,” Skytte told Reuters on Almegard military base near Ronne, Bornholm’s largest town.
‘NEW SECURITY SITUATION’
Since the Ukraine war, there have been more volunteers to the Home Guard. “I’m not saying we should fear the Russians coming, but we just have to prepare, and we have to plan, train and keep the powder dry,” Skytte said.
Lasse Rasmussen, 21, a volunteer for three years and former military conscript, said there had been an anxious atmosphere on the day of the gas pipeline ruptures.
“It got really, really close, especially for my friends on the east coast, who could almost see the ships out there, and the planes and helicopters in the sky,” he said.
Following the pipeline ruptures, Sweden and Danish authorities cordoned off the area and launched investigations, both finding that powerful explosions had been the cause.
Bornholm’s mayor Jacob Trost says dealing with security issues quickly became part of his job after he took office in January. Denmark’s military placed two F-16 fighter jets on the island this year and naval activity has increased in the area.
“There’s a new security situation on Bornholm because of the war,” Trost said. “Most people on Bornholm are pretty calm about what is going on, but it is in the back of our minds.”
Danes vote on Tuesday in a parliamentary election where geopolitical uncertainty and economic turmoil are likely to impact voting.
(Reporting by Nikolaj Skydsgaard; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)