“Iceland should be neutral on Russia”

Iceland exported EUR 163,000 worth of fish to Russia last …

Iceland exported EUR 163,000 worth of fish to Russia last year. Photo: Albert Kemp

The Icelandic government has been criticised by a leading figure in Icelandic fisheries for jeopardising the country’s business interests by supporting European Union (EU) sanctions against Russia.

Russia has responded to Iceland’s official backing of EU proposals to prolong economic sanctions against Russia until 31 January 2016 by threatening Iceland with economic sanctions in return.

Good trade relations with Russia

Gunnþór Ingvason, CEO of the Herring Processing Plant in Neskaupstaður (East Iceland), has strongly criticised Foreign Minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson for his handling of this affair and urges the Icelandic government to remain neutral.

“Iceland has had successful trade relations with Russia in recent decades, including during the Cold War,” explains Ingvason. “It is part of the Foreign Minister’s job to safeguard Icelandic political interests abroad.”

Just under half of all exported Icelandic mackerel went to Russia in 2013 and the country has long been an important market for Icelandic fish products.

In 2010, the total value of Icelandic fish exports to Russia was ISK 10.3 million (approx. €70,000). By 2014, this had more than doubled to ISK 24 million (approx. €163,000).

Russian embargo likely

Foreign Minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson has indicated that it now seems more likely than not that Russia will place an embargo on Icelandic imports in response to Iceland’s support for the EU plans.

The Icelandic Parliament (‘Alþingi’) Foreign Affairs Committee is reportedly unanimous in its determination not to deviate from its policy of supporting EU sanctions against Russia.

“The chief reason we are supporting sanctions is [Russia’s] violation of international laws and treaties,” explains Sveinsson. “Abandoning that principle would be a major political decision.”

Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Birgir Ármannsson, has indicated that Iceland’s long-term interests are best served by preserving the solidarity of Western nations on the issue of sanctions against Russia. According to Sveinsson, Iceland has more to gain by supporting EU sanctions than it has to lose by a Russian embargo.

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