Zelenskyy to European Council: “Is There Anything We Can’t Do?”

Reykjavík Summit

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the president of Ukraine, delivered a remote address at the Reykjavík Summit of the European Council yesterday. After Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir had formally opened the meeting, Zelenskyy related how the Ukrainian armed forces had successfully thwarted a Russian missile attack and thanked European leaders for their support.

Three primary objectives

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir opened the Reykjavík Summit of the European Council at the Harpa  Music and Conference Hall yesterday. She began by laying down the agenda for the meeting, stating that the summit had three primary objectives: to reiterate support for Ukraine, to renew commitments to human rights, and to take on challenging tasks around the world.

“Standing by our values,” Katrín summed up.

Katrín also struck a somewhat ominous tone following her preamble: “We are not gathered here to celebrate but in the shadow of war. Russia’s attack on Ukraine is the most serious attack on peace and security in Europe since World War II. In addition to massive casualties, it has led to bloodbaths, rapes, and murders of civilians.”

Katrín then addressed Ukrainians and Ukrainian President Zelenskyy: “We have enormous respect for your determination to fight back. We will continue to stand with you,” Katrín declared, prior to once again calling on Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukraine as a “first step to end the war.”

“This senseless war on our continent goes against all the values ​​we united around when we founded this Council; it is a serious attack against the values ​​that make Europe something bigger than just a continent but a common cause.” On Monday, it was reported that Parliament had proposed a resolution to authorise the Foreign Minister to secure the purchase of a mobile emergency hospital for Ukraine.

Zelenskyy “takes the stage”

Following Katrín’s opening remarks, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the audience remotely from Ukraine. He began by relating how Ukraine’s air defence system had intercepted 18 Russian missiles of various types – including types that have been deemed unstoppable – on the night after Monday.

Zelenskyy added that no one had died in the Russian airstrikes and referred to the air defence operation as a “historical result.” He then thanked European leaders for their part in strengthening the country’s air defence system. Zelenskyy also noted that the success of the night would not have been possible a year ago.

“Is there anything we can’t do?”

“If we are able to do this, is there anything we can’t do when we are united – and determined to protect lives? The answer is that we in unity will give 100% in any field when we have a rule to protect our people – and our Europe,” Zelenskyy observed.

Despite this historical result, the Ukrainian president admitted that much remained to be done, given the size of Ukraine’s territory. In order to make the success of the night a rule throughout the country, the country’s air defence system would need to be further improved. The president then called for missiles, fighter jets, and other weapons.

“100% should be our benchmark. We must give 0% to the aggressor. 100% of the success of defence operations is guaranteed by weapons and training of our soldiers, and I thank everyone who strengthens our defence,” Zelenskky remarked.

First US Navy Submarine Service Stop in Icelandic Waters

USS San Juan (SSN 751) alongside an Icelandic Coast Guard ship

The American nuclear-powered submarine USS San Juan visited Iceland yesterday for a brief service stop in the waters outside of Garðskagi, Southwest Iceland. As per a US Navy press release, San Juan does not carry nuclear weapons. Foreign Minister Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörd Gylfadóttir announced on April 18 that nuclear-powered submarines of the US Navy would be authorised to make a brief service visit in Iceland to receive supplies and exchange crew members.

This decision by the Minister for Foreign Affairs is part of the Icelandic government’s policy to support increased monitoring and response capacity of Allied countries in the North Atlantic. In recent years, the Icelandic and US governments have increased cooperation to strengthen situational awareness and readiness in the North Atlantic.

A founding member of NATO, Iceland has hosted the organisation’s exercises in recent years. In 2019, Iceland upped its defence budget by 37%. Last year, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir announced another increase to the budget in response to the war in Ukraine, with a special emphasis on cyber security. Katrín also announced an increase in Iceland’s NATO funding at the time.

Iceland Authorises US Submarines in Coastal Waters

Minister of Foreign Affairs Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir

US Navy nuclear-powered submarines will be allowed to stop close to Iceland and the first one is expected soon. Iceland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs has specifically stated to the US authorities that these submarines cannot carry nuclear weapons in Iceland’s territorial waters.

According to Minister of Foreign Affairs Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir, this decision is in line with Icelandic authorities’ policy to support increased surveillance by NATO states, increasing the security of marine infrastructure such as marine telecommunications cables in the ocean around Iceland. The frequency of the visits will be assessed according to need. The authorisation for submarines is not restricted to a specific period and there will likely be a few visits per year. Each time a submarine approaches, it musest request permission. Þórdís Kolbrún told Vísir that the decision was not only made to increase telecommunication security but also to fulfil obligations to NATO and defence in the North Atlantic.

The first submarine is expected soon. It will be allowed to restock supplies and bring on new crew members a few kilometres off the coast of Iceland but will not dock as Iceland doesn’t have the harbour infrastructure to support submarines. Þórdís states that the submarines will stop outside the Reykjanes peninsula.

Both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister stress that foreign military vessels’ arrival in Iceland is conditional on the respective country’s knowing and respecting Iceland’s National Security Policy which states that Iceland and Icelandic waters will not host nuclear weapons. This position has been reiterated in the Foreign Minister’s note to US authorities. Submarines authorised to stop in Icelandic waters will not carry nuclear weapons nor will they be fitted for such weapons. When asked if Icelandic authorities had any guarantee US authorities would comply with Iceland’s demands, Þórdís Kolbrún replies that it is a matter of trust.  “We base this on our solid communication with US authorities. These kinds of submarines don’t carry nuclear weapons. We have issued clear declarations and a clear policy and we’ve gotten confirmation that the Americans will honour it. Norway has a similar policy and their cooperation has been without issue for decades,” Þórdís stated.

All submarines in the service of the US Military are nuclear-powered. All seafaring vessels are authorised to cross Icelandic waters on peaceful missions, but foreign governments must apply to the foreign ministry if they want their vessels to stop Iceland’s territorial waters.

Iceland Would Support Finland Joining NATO, Prime Minister Says

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin and Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Prime Minister of Iceland

Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir has stated that the country would support Finland and Sweden if they decide to join NATO, RÚV reports. Support for Finland joining NATO has more than doubled among the general public since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. Katrín stated that Iceland’s Security Council is updating its risk assessment for Iceland.

Katrín stated that the re-evaluation is “Based on both the events in Ukraine and what could possibly follow: that is, the possible accession of Finland and Sweden to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. So this work is ongoing.”

Katrín travelled to Finland earlier this month, where she met with Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin (pictured above). The two leaders discussed “Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine, the European security situation and deepening Nordic cooperation,” according to a tweet from the Finnish government.

When asked about Russia’s potential reaction to Finland and Sweden joining NATO, Katrín stated: “We see that they do not take this well in public discussion. But the way I look at it the Finns and Swedes make their decisions and we will stand with them in their decisions.”

New Ship Freyja Increases Coast Guard’s Response Capacity

Freyja coast guard ship

The Icelandic Coast Guard’s new patrol ship Freyja has arrived in Iceland. The ship is currently located in Reykjavík harbour for the installation of equipment but its home port will be Siglufjörður, North Iceland. With the Coast Guard’s other patrol ship, Þór, stationed in Reykjavík, response time to emergencies will shorten across the country.

The decision to make Siglufjörður Freyja’s home port was jointly made by the Coast Guard and Ministry of Justice. As a press release from the Coast Guard explains, “With increased ship travel in the Arctic, the number of trips by large cargo and oil vessels along the east and north coasts of Iceland increases. The number of cruise ships are also expected to increase, and there is no need to extrapolate on the threats posed to the ecosystem in the event of danger. Hours to or from [the scene of an event] can be crucial. With Þór in Reykjavík and Freyja in Siglufjörður, the Coast Guard’s response capacity around the country has been increased and it will be easier to ensure the safety of seafarers, Icelanders, and resources at sea.”

Freyja is comparable to Þór in terms of its size and equipment, but has greater towing capacity. With Freyja’s arrival, the Coast Guard’s older patrol ship Týr will be relieved of duty. Freyja, Þór, and Týr are all names taken from Norse mythology, a tradition for the naming of Coast Guard ships.

The new ship arrived in Reykjavík harbour last Monday afternoon and is now being outfitted with a computer system and other equipment. Freyja is scheduled to set off on its first patrol mission on November 22, and will end the mission in Siglufjörður on December 9.

Freshly-Painted Freyja Coming to Iceland

An Icelandic Coast Guard vessel

The Icelandic Coast Guard’s new patrol ship Freyja is expected to arrive in Iceland on November 6. The ship has already been painted in the flag colours and its crew has arrived in Rotterdam, the Netherlands to sail Freyja home to Siglufjörður. Freyja is 86 metres long and 20 metres wide, and will join the Coast Guard’s other main patrol ship Þór in monitoring Icelandic waters.

Freyja is similar to Þór in terms of size and equipment, though with greater towing and rescue capacity. Both ships are specially equipped to carry out law enforcement as well as search and rescue missions in Iceland’s demanding conditions.

Þór’s arrival to Iceland just over 10 years ago marked a turning point in the Icelandic Coast Guard’s search and rescue ability. The ship was used as a mobile power station for Dalvík two years ago and provided a large part of the town with electricity during a power outage. The ship’s towing capacity has come to good use in towing incapacitated ships over the years.

Russia Gives No Explanation of Navy Ships off Iceland’s Coast

Russia ship navy military severomorsk

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.

US Stealth Bombers Leave Iceland Following Extended Deployment

B-2 spirit stealth bomber

Three B-2 Spirit stealth bombers that arrived at Iceland’s Keflavík International Airport on August 23, 2021 spent an extended period in the country, Stars and Stripes reports. According to the outlet, Iceland was used as a new launch point for bomber missions to Europe. “this is the first time the B-2 has operated continuously from Iceland,” Lt. Col. Matthew Howard is quoted as saying. “Having the B-2s in the theater in Iceland allows us to respond to any potential crisis or challenge across the globe.” The three bombers returned to their home base in the United States on September 11 once their Keflavík mission was completed.

Large defence investments in Keflavík

Iceland does not have its own military. Its defence policy is founded on the country’s membership in NATO and the 1951 Defence Agreement signed by Iceland and the United States. In 2019, the Icelandic government increased its defence budget by 37%, citing four large projects as the main expenses. The largest proportion of the funding goes toward operation of Keflavík Airport and the Icelandic Coast Guard.

The US Military has also invested millions in renovations at the Naval Air Station in Keflavík to “support NATO air surveillance missions and the collective defense and military activities in this crucial North Atlantic location,” according to a press release from the United States Air Force.

Growing strategic interest in Arctic

Iceland is strategically positioned at the edge of the Arctic, which has become a region of growing interest for powerful nations, not only in relation to national security but also for its economic possibilities and vulnerability to climate change. Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir chairs the Left-Green Movement, which opposes the country’s membership in NATO. In 2020, she stated that “permanent [military] presence or a new military base in Iceland, is out of the question.”

During an official visit to Iceland earlier this year, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that the United States planned “to continue to maintain the US presence on a persistent rotational basis,” adding that any changes to current operations “are closely co-ordinated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and all NATO allies.” He added that the Arctic “must remain an area of peaceful co-operation.”

Canadian Troops Install Mobile Radar on Reykjanes

Canadian Air Force Radar Keflavík

The Icelandic Coast Guard and 30 Canadian air force troops have installed a mobile radar station at Miðnesheiði, near Keflavík Airport on the Reykjanes peninsula. The equipment was brought from Canada to ensure uninterrupted surveillance of Iceland’s air space while Iceland updates its permanent radar system.

The Icelandic government allocated ISK 127 million ($1m/€900,000) of last year’s defence budget toward updating the country’s radar system and military base systems. According to a Coast Guard press release, the installation of the mobile radar is largely funded by NATO.

Canadian Air Force Radar Keflavík

Canadian Air Force Radar Keflavík

Expanded Accommodation “Does Not Mean Permanent Army Base”

Army planes at Keflavík

Accommodation for armed forces at Keflavík Airport is set to expand in order to house up to 300 more troops, Vísir reports. A newly-commissioned land-use plan for the area carried out by the Icelandic Coast Guard outlines plans to add four buildings that could house up to 70 troops each. Presence of foreign forces in Iceland has increased in recent years, mostly connected to surveillance activity.

Short-term accommodation for 1,000

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs instructed the Coast Guard to prepare a land-use plan for Keflavík Airport’s security area, which was published June 19. The area is divided into a western and eastern zone. In the western zone, authorities plan to install containers to provide short-term accommodation for up to 1,000 people. The eastern zone already includes short-term accommodation for up to 200, but the Coast Guard’s plan calls for the addition of four new buildings housing around 70 troops each.

Increased submarine surveillance

When asked for the reasoning behind this large-scale development, the Foreign Ministry’s Public Relations Officer Sveinn Guðmarsson answered that the current accommodations at the site are to small and unsuitable. “Often the number of foreign forces are well over 200, and it happens that the number goes well over 400.”

“Some groups come here with short notice. The presence of foreign forces has increased in recent years, for example due to increased activities in connection with submarine surveillance.” Sveinn says it is ideal for forces to have accommodation within the security area, due to air policing and practice drills. Forces have previously had to stay at hotels in the Suðurnes region or in the capital area due to a lack of space.

More funds for defence

Iceland upped its defence budget by 37% this year. The United States government has also allocated ISK 6 billion ($47.9 million/€42.7 million), for the design and construction of the new security area at Keflavík Airport. US Lieutenant General Richard Clark, who visited Iceland last year, described the country as “hugely important.”

Despite the extensive development at Keflavík, Sveinn says the US Army’s plans do not include a permanent presence in the country.