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Russian Ban on Icelandic Imports—The Latest

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Russian Ban on Icelandic Imports—The Latest

Fish shop in Iceland

Photo: Zoë Robert.

Faced with an increased military threat from Russia, we can’t expect other western nations to help us protect our borders unless we support them in their efforts against Russia, said former Ambassador Einar Benediktsson when interviewed by RÚV last night. He believes the militarization of Russia in the Arctic region is more substantial than it was during the Cold War.

Einar has extensive experience in the Foreign Service, having served as Icelandic ambassador in Paris, London and Washington. “There has been no lack of declarations from President Putin himself in the past year or two regarding the militarization of the Russian side of the Arctic region in the Kola Peninsula,” Einar stated. Military bases have been opened, he said; there are large airports with the necessary equipment, battleships, submarines and a new generation of missiles.

Political Science Professor Eiríkur Bergmann Einarsson agrees that the dispute with Russia is escalating. “I was in Moscow recently,” he told mbl.is, “and the feeling is clearly that of a state which is in the trenches and believes it is under attack. People are getting ready for a conflict, which in many ways is dead serious.” He warns that Russia’s expansionism is extremely dangerous and says it’s childish to believe it has had its fill in that respect. “Peace in Iceland is threatened as much as anywhere else,” he concludes.

High-ranking people in the fishing industry have criticized the Icelandic government for supporting western sanctions, but Einar Benediktsson believes the Icelandic government has acted wisely—that we have simply fulfilled our duty toward the western nations. The European Union and NATO were forced, Einar emphasizes, to respond to Russia’s actions in Ukraine and sanctions were the least severe of their options.

Small boat fishermen are worried by the Russian counter-sanctions, RÚV reports. The board of the National Federation of Owners of Small Boats issued a statement yesterday expressing its worries. The members of the board believe the government has failed to use its time wisely and request that President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson take advantage of his friendship with President Putin to seek a compromise.

Örn Pálsson, CEO of the federation doesn’t see a clear way out. “It’s a shame,” he states, and suggests the government hasn’t done much to prevent this since Foreign Minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson visited Ukraine last year. He maintains, though, that small boat owners are not taking issue regarding Iceland’s support of the western sanctions, but believes the situation would have been different had representatives of the fishing industry been consulted.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson tells RÚV the details of the ban still aren’t clear. He says Russia will be asked to reconsider its decision. Moreover, Iceland may seek assistance from the European Union. Gunnar Bragi explains that negotiations with Russia would include ways to lessen the impact of the ban, such as limiting the time it will be in effect or the number of products it will include. He furthermore suggests the possibility of asking the EU to cancel tariffs on mackerel products, which now amount to 20 percent. There are no plans, he says, to withdraw Iceland’s support of the western sanctions.

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