In late summer of this year, a convoy of Russian military ships set off from the northern port of Severomorsk. The expedition was intended to be a routine Arctic voyage, but it did not end up that way. Three ships from the convoy took an unexpected turn west, sailing close to Norway’s Svalbard archipelago and then into Icelandic waters on August 20, RÚV reports. The ships made their presence clear to Icelandic authorities, yet Russia has not answered their inquiries as to why the ships entered Icelandic waters, or why the destroyer Severomorsk circumnavigated the country.
A press release from the Russian Ministry of Defence states that the ships were directed to Iceland to respond to and monitor NATO warships and unexpected air exercises in the northeastern part of the Norwegian Sea, east of Iceland. Iceland’s Foreign Minister Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson said it was far-fetched that Russia needed to carry out military exercises near Iceland to defend itself. “But they of course have their own approach to international affairs, as we know,” Guðlaugur stated. Still, he added, it was not surprising that Russia would use NATO exercises as an excuse for such activity.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with Guðlaugur Þór in Reykjavík last spring, where he expressed his concern about the military conduct of neighbouring countries, stating that “There are unresolved issues related to militarisation and reconstruction in Norway and the Baltic states.”
Iceland’s defence policy is founded on its membership in NATO and the 1951 defence agreement signed with the United States. Iceland has greatly increased its defence spending in recent years, increasing spending by 37% between 2017 and 2019. In its 2020 budget, the US Air Force allocated ISK 7 billion [$56.2 million, €49.5 million] to construction projects at Iceland’s Keflavík Airport.