Six Icelandic Firms on Yale’s List of Companies Doing Business in Russia, Three Shouldn’t Be

The Yale School of Management names six Icelandic businesses on its list of companies still doing business in Russia, but RÚV reports that three of them have no presence or operations in Russia at all, and one never did in the first place. Attempts have been made to contact the manager of the Yale list, a professor and dean at the university, to make appropriate corrections, but these attempts have not been successful.

Failing grades

The list, simply dubbed “Yale CELI List of Companies” (CELI stands for Chief Executive Leadership Institute”) was started on February 28, days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Since then, the responses of over 1,200 companies regarding their presence and business activities in Russia have been tracked by Professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld and the Yale Research Team. “Originally a simple ‘withdraw’ vs. ‘remain’ list,” reads the preface, “our list of companies now consists of five categories—graded on a school-style letter grade scale of A-F for the completeness of withdrawal.”

The CELI list is said to be “updated continuously.” As of July 8, 2022, its headline read “Over 1,000 Companies Have Curtailed Operations in Russia—But Some Remain.” As of that time, six Icelandic companies were included on the list. Three of these—Hampiðjan, Knarr Maritime, and Sæplast—were given a grade of F, “Digging In: Defying Demands for Exit or Reduction of Activities.” Two other Icelandic companies—Marel and Naust Marine—were graded D, “Buying Time: Holding Off New Investments/Development” and one, Eimskip, was graded C, “Scaling Back: Reducing Current Operations.”

No operations in Russia, but still on the list

RÚV contacted the public relations officer for the shipping company Eimskip, who said the company had ceased sailing to Russia right after the invasion and moreover, had not had any operations in the country since 2019, when it closed its Russian office. The PR officer said that Eimskip has attempted to contact Prof. Sonnenfeld to correct its record without success.

According to the Yale list, Knarr Maritime, has “members still operating in Russia.” RÚV reports, however, that the company closed its office in Russia two years ago and no longer has any operations there.

Sæplast, a company that designs and manufactures insulated tubs and pallets for use in the fishing industry, issued a statement on its website on Thursday, saying that it has no operations in Russia, and never has. “The company has no office in Russia and no employee works there,” reads the statement. “Sæplast sold tubs to Russia for many years, either directly or through agents and/or independent distributors, but since Russia invaded Ukraine, no products have been sold there or delivered from Sæplast to the Russian market. Allegations about Sæplast’s operations and trade with Russia are therefore incorrect.”

According to Sæplast general manager Daði Valdimarsson, the company has attempted to convey this information to the managers of the Yale list but has had no success. Sæplast has also been in touch with the Embassy of Ukraine to Iceland (located in Finland) via the Iceland Chamber of Commerce.

Still have offices in Russia

Naust Marine is one of two Icelandic companies given a D grade, meaning that they’ve paused but not ceased operations in Russia. Four years ago, Naust Marine signed a major deal to sell electric winches to Russia for use on its trawlers. General Manager Bjarni Þór Gunnlaugsson told RÚV the deal is at a complete standstill, but it’s unclear what that means for future operations.

Fellow D recipient Marel, a food processing company, published a statement on its website on March 9, saying that it “strongly condemns the military actions of the Russian government in Ukraine” and that it had “taken the decision to pause all new projects in Russia.” The statement continued by saying that Marel has a sales and service operation in Russia, and employees 70 people. It will “continue to prioritize the safety and wellbeing of our employees” and “maintain our dedicated teams in the Ukraine and Russia and our office in Russia, despite expected lower utilization in the near future.” The statement also added that “Marel’s annual revenues and order book in Russia and Ukraine amount to approximately 4% of total.”

RÚV was unable to speak to management at fishing manufacturer Hampiðjan, as they were apparently all attending a meeting on Friday. The company has an office in Murmansk, Russia. At time of writing, there was no information on Hampiðjan’s website indicating whether the Murmansk office is still operational, or if the its business activities in Russia have changed at all since the invasion of Ukraine.

Iceland Closes Airspace to Russia

Iceland

The Icelandic government has decided to close its airspace to Russian aircraft. RÚV reports that Minister of Foreign Affairs Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir announced the decision via Twitter on Sunday morning, “in solidarity with Ukraine.”

Iceland was one of several Nordic countries to close its airspace to Russia over the weekend; Denmark, Sweden, and Finland announced that they would be doing the same on Sunday. Britain, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania have also closed their airspace to Russia and Germany has announced its intention to do so as well. It’s expected that Russia will face a total EU airspace ban shortly.

Iceland condemns Russia’s ‘brutal and unprovoked attack’ on Ukraine, sends €1 million in aid

Þórdís Kolbrún has made a number of public statements condemning Russia’s assault on Ukraine in recent days. On February 24, the first day of Russia’s invasion, Þórdís Kolbrún gave an official statement, stating that Iceland condemned “in the strongest possible terms, the brutal and unprovoked attack of Russia on Ukraine.” She continued: “Russia’s action is a flagrant violation of international law, including the Charter of the United Nations, and is in full contradiction to the Helsinki Final Act.” That same day, she tweeted that Iceland would be sending €1 million [ISK 141.19 million; USD 1.13 million] in humanitarian support to Ukraine.

The next day, she urged the Council of Europe to suspend “Russia’s right of representation in the Council of Europe with immediate effect.”

According to information from the Foreign Ministry, Iceland will also be revoking special privileges that have been afforded Russians coming to Iceland via existing bilateral agreements, such as simplified visa processing for Russian diplomats, businesspeople, politicians, and government representatives. The ministry has emphasized, however, that these moves are “not directed at general Russian tourists, students, or others,” whose visa applications will continue to be reviewed as per usual.

Iceland’s airspace patrolled by NATO

Iceland’s airspace is patrolled by NATO as part of an ongoing mission, called Icelandic Air Policing, which is meant “to establish air surveillance and interception coverage over Iceland and maintain the integrity of NATO airspace.” NATO members maintain a periodic presence of fighter aircraft from the former US military base at Keflavík. Icelandic Air Policing typically involves member nations deploying fighter aircraft to patrol Iceland’s airspace three times a year, for periods of three to four weeks at a time.

Russia’s Embargo of Iceland Still Stands Four Years Later

Today, fours years have passed since Russia placed a trade embargo on Iceland. Previously, Iceland had officially supported sanctions placed on Russia by the EU, USA, and more Western nations. The sanctions followed Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the war in Ukraine. Russia thus placed a trade embargo on Iceland, along with several other western countries, on August 14 2015. The sanctions placed on Russia involved politicians, wealthy individuals, and weapons trade, amongst other things, while Russia’s embargo mostly focused on consumer goods, especially food.

Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, Iceland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, says it’s imperative that Iceland continues to take a stance with the nations which believe international laws should be respected. Therefore, it would be unwise to concede to the embargo and switch Iceland’s stance at this point in time. “International laws were broken quite crudely. We witnessed a change of borders by force, which we have not seen the like of since World War II,” he stated. The Icelandic government initially considered withdrawing its support of sanctions against Russia, but ultimately decided to uphold the sanctions.

Fishing industry affected
The Icelandic fishing industry has lobbied hard against Iceland’s stance on the matter from the beginning. Fisheries Iceland, an association of fishing companies, believe that Iceland’s continued participation in the sanctions against Russia leads to severe losses for them. The association states on its website that the Icelandic’s government actions are a ‘useless sacrifice’ in an article released on the four-year juncture of the embargo. According to them, Iceland has been proportionally hit the hardest by the embargo as 90% of the exports to Russia were derived from the fishing industry. The value of trade balance to Russia, which has not included service business and used ships for the last four years, has reduced severely.

The value of trade to Russia was ISK 26 billion (€187m, $209m) in 2014 but stood at ISK 4 billion (€29m, $32m) in 2018. The largest part of the reduction has taken place in exports related to the fishing industry. Fisheries Iceland state that even though new markets have been found for goods which previously went to Russia, the augmented value is significantly less.

“No industry, or at least very few, depends on international laws being respected as much as the fishing industry. We can’t take this out of context. It’s in the interest of everyone to abide by international laws, but especially so for the smallest,” Guðlaugur Þór stated, alluding to Iceland’s size in today’s globalized world. He mentioned that trade with Russia is increasing in other industries. High-tech companies will likely increase foreign exchange earnings significantly following recent contracts made with Russian food manufacturing companies. “Since I arrived in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and probably before that time as well, we’ve been hard at work to increased trade between Iceland and Russia. Luckily, we’re seeing the fruit of our labour in a significant increase between years, even though it is not in the same industries as before they placed the embargo on us,” Guðlaugur stated.

For those wishing to read the article from the Fisheries Iceland, it can be found here in Icelandic: https://sfs.is/greinar/vidskiptabannid-a-russa-gagnslaus-forn/