Russian Trawler Suspected of Espionage

capelin loðna fishing

At least one of the 50 Russian ships suspected of conducting espionage in the legal waters of the Nordic countries is believed to have also operated in Iceland, reports Morgunblaðið.

A team of journalists from Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark have recently produced a documentary which proves the involvement of Russian fishing vessels in acts of espionage carried out in the territorial waters of the Scandinavian nations. According to the latest information, one of the ships in question, Melkart 5, also operated in Icelandic waters.

Melkart 5 is suspected of being connected to a damaged underwater cable between Norway and Svalbard. It has also been shown to carry specialized military communications equipment.

The trawler, operated by Murman Seafood, has a history of operating in Iceland. Melkart 5 visited the Akureyri drydock in 2020, when it was painted, repaired, and its main engine replaced. The latest work by the investigative team of journalists alleges that Melkart 5 dragged a trawl door along the seabed to damage the underwater cable. Due to unclear legislation, the case was dropped. The ship’s management denies all accusations.

Some 50 Rusian ships are suspected of such espionage actions, but the full list has not been published.

In February of last year, representatives of the Norwegian Coast Guard, the police, and the customs authorities also went on board the Russian yacht Ragnar while it was docked in Northern Norway. Owned by Vladimir Strzhalkovski, a former KGB official and acquaintance of President Putin, the vessel was equipped with a helipad, ice-breaker hull, and docking facilities for a small reconnaissance submarine. Ragnar was suspected of espionage actions and refused fuel by the Norwegians. Other Russian-operated vessels have also been shown to spend large amounts of time in waters of strategic significance to Norway.

At the time of writing, Melkart 5 is currently docked in Tórshavn in the Faroe Islands. Although evidence suggests that Melkart 5 may not have been the only Russian-operated ship to have engaged in espionage while in Icelandic waters, definitive proof has not yet emerged.

One Year On: 800 Ukrainians Granted Work Permits in Iceland

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy

Over 800 Ukrainian refugees have received work permits in Iceland since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began last year, an article on the government’s website notes. Today marks one year since the start of the war in Ukraine.

Ukrainians entered the labour market successfully

The Icelandic government has successfully helped Ukrainian refugees integrate into the labour market, according to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor. Over the past year, nearly 2,600 Ukrainian refugees have been welcomed to Iceland, with around 1,900 between the ages of 18 and 67, as reported on the government’s website.

“Based on the number of work permits issued, it can be assumed that more than 42% of refugees have already secured employment. However, it is important to note that some have only recently arrived and require time to settle before finding work,” the press release reads.

The first refugees arrived in Iceland from Ukraine in February of last year, with over 500 people fleeing the country in the following month. Since then, approximately 200 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Iceland each month, with residency permits granted on humanitarian grounds.

“Hard workers” who’ve been well received

The majority of work permits issued for Ukrainian refugees in Iceland are for jobs in cleaning and laundry, as well as various service roles in homes and restaurants. Some have also secured employment in the construction and fishing industries.

“We see that most people from Ukraine who come to us want to enter the labour market as soon as possible and that they put a lot of effort into finding a job. Many of them are willing to accept whatever’s available, despite their high level of education and work experience. They report feeling welcomed, safe, and positively received in Iceland,” Guðlaug Hrönn Pétursdóttir, head of the refugee department at the Directorate of Labour, which provides special services (including Icelandic lessons) to refugees who are looking for employment.

Employers in Iceland have expressed satisfaction with Ukrainian workers, who are known to work hard. In 2022, the Directorate of Labour provided community education to 395 Ukrainians and Icelandic lessons to 419 refugees.

Iceland’s Low-Cost Electricity in High Demand as Energy Prices Skyrocket in Europe

Low cost of electricity in Iceland compared with the rest of Europe

There is an increasing demand amongst foreign companies to base their operations in Iceland due to favourable energy prices, but the demand far exceeds what the country’s power plants can produce. RÚV reports that Landsvirkjun, the National Power Company of Iceland, says there’s a pressing need for increased electricity production.

‘New, potential customers are knocking on the door’

With Russia cutting off petrol pipelines to Europe, energy prices on the continent are skyrocketing. Meanwhile in Iceland, energy prices have remained almost unchanged. “It’s our renewable energy that makes this possible,” says Tinna Traustadóttir, Executive Vice President of Sales at Landsvirkjun. And as gas prices continue to rise, it’s not only consumers, but also companies, that are suffering. This has led to many enterprises—not least energy-guzzling aluminium smelters—going under as a result.

The state of Europe’s changing energy landscape is “reflected in high demand from existing customers,” explains Tinna, “and we also feel that there are new, potential customers knocking on the door.” At present, however, Iceland has no electricity to spare.

“As it stands now, you could say our electricity system is at full capacity, or as close to that as possible. And of course, it takes time to generate a new supply, but the situation is a pressing one,” says Tinna.

‘We will need to prioritize…but it’s clear we need to accelerate’

As a result, many foreign companies are clamouring to relocate their operations in Iceland, but the demand not only far exceeds the country’s current energy supply, it also exceeds Landsvirkjun’s plans for future  electricity production.

“We will need to prioritize,” says Tinna, listing off Landsvirkjun’s competing energy interests. “Domestic energy exchange, domestic food production, technological progress, supporting our current customers. But it’s clear we need to accelerate.”

Apologize or Face Cyberattack: Icelandic Paper Faces Threats from Hackers and Ire of Russian Embassy

The Icelandic newspaper Fréttablaðið received a threat from Russian hackers on Thursday morning: apologize before midnight, Moscow-time (9:00 PM in Iceland) or face a cyberattack in retaliation. The hackers want the paper’s editors to issue a formal apology for publishing a photograph of someone using a Russian flag as a doormat with the caption: “Ukrainians have found a new use for the Russian flag.” Fréttablaðið and Stundin are reporting on this story.

‘A manifest of uncovered disrespect towards the Russian Federation’

The image in question appeared as part of an interview with Valur Gunnarsson, an Icelandic journalist who is currently in Ukraine. Upon its publication on Wednesday, the photograph almost immediately caught the attention of the Embassy in Iceland, which sent Fréttablaðið’s Editor-in-Chief Sigmundur Ernir Rúnarsson a letter demanding an apology for “breaching the existing law and common moral values, as well as journalist ethics.”

“We would like to remind you that the Icelandic government hasn’t repealed yet Art. 95 of the General Penal Code of Iceland, according to which anyone who publicly insults foreign state symbols shall be fined or even imprisoned,” the letter states, calling the image “a manifest of uncovered disrespect towards the Russian Federation and its state symbols.”

The Russian Embassy urged the editors to respond immediately, and “not waste time defending this under the cover of free speech.”

Two Icelandic authors were convicted under same law for insulting Hitler

The legal provision cited by the Russian Embassy—which can technically carry with it a prison sentence of up to six years—is rarely enacted, although it does have a fairly colourful history. The most famous instances of Icelanders being sentenced under this legal provision occurred in 1934, during the leadup to World War II.

First, author Þórbergur Þórðarson stood trial and was fined for calling Adolf Hitler a “sadist” in an article he wrote for the socialist paper Alþýðublaðið called “The Nazis’ Sadistic Appetite.” Later that same year, poet Steinn Steinarr was sentenced under the same article when he and four other people cut down a swastika flag at the German consulate in Siglufjörður.

More recently, rapper and artist Erpur Eyvindarson and two friends were sentenced under the same provision after throwing a Molotov cocktail at the U.S. Embassy in 2002. It was determined that the trio had not intended to harm anyone with the homemade combustable, but rather deface the exterior of the embassy. As such, they were found guilty of insulting a foreign state and its citizens instead of a more serious crime.

In 2017, Left-Green MPs submitted a resolution to appeal the provision, saying, among other things, that it posed an infringement on free expression. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs opposed the repeal, however, arguing that the provision was justified under the terms of international agreements and treaties of friendship.

‘After hacking your paper’s website, we will publish photos of kompromat’

On Thursday morning, the Fréttablaðið website was subjected to what seemed to be a preliminary or warning attack. “We noticed this morning that the traffic on the website suddenly snowballed and it was clear that it was part of an attack on the website,” said Sigmundur Ernir. The ISP already had security measures in place to protect the website and additional steps were then taken to try and prevent further incursions on its functionality. At time of writing, the Fréttablaðið website was still active and accessible, although keeping it functional was difficult, according to sources at the paper.

Shortly after the initial attack, the Fréttablaðið editors received a more explicit email from the hackers responsible, saying: “What right do you have to insult or dishonour the symbols of another nation!!! If you do not apologize on Thursday, August 11 before 24:00 Moscow-time! [sic] We will hack your website and provider. Then after hacking your paper’s website, we will publish photos of kompromat on your publication and you will for sure face a criminal sentence for corruption, banditry [English word used in original message], etc.”

Ivan Glinkin, Communications Director for the Russian Embassy, says the embassy has no idea who is responsible for the attacks on the Fréttablaðið website. Asked if the embassy believes such attacks are in any way an appropriate response to the publication of the offending photo, Glinkin said the embassy condemns all illegal actions, no matter what they are.

‘The flag is almost beside the point’

Editor-in-chief Sigmundur Ernir stated that his paper would not be issuing an apology for publishing a journalistic image taken in a conflict zone but is taking the threat seriously and has referred the matter to the police.

Fréttablaðið has also contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has expressed support for the paper’s position. The Union of Icelandic Journalists (BÍ) also published a statement of support on Thursday, saying “the importance of an independent and free media is particularly vital in times of war and BÍ condemns all attempts to influence the media’s coverage of the war in Ukraine.”

“There’s nothing sacred in a war where children, mothers, and the elderly are killed and whole communities destroyed,” Sigmundur Ernir remarked in an interview with Vísir the same day.

“So the flag is almost beside the point, as flags are trampled in many places around the world in protest. I think Russians should think first and foremost about treating the nations around them with decency rather than whining about a photo in Fréttablaðið.”

Reykjavík Formally Dedicates Square in Honor of Kyiv

Kyiv Square was formally dedicated in a ceremony presided over by Reykjavík mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson on Wednesday. Vísir reports that the square is located on the corner of Garðastræti and Túngata, just blocks away from the Russian embassy. The square will also bear the name Kænugarður in Icelandic, an old Icelandic name for the Ukrainian capital.

See Also: Kænugarður, the ancient Icelandic name for Kyiv

Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson and attendees of the formal dedication of Kænugarður, or Kyiv Square. Photo via Reykjavíkurborg, FB

A sign designed by artists and spouses Óskar Hallgrímsson, who is Icelandic, and Mariika Lobynsteva, who is Ukrainian, was hung during the dedication.

“This [dedication] is, first and foremost, a symbolic gesture,” said the mayor during the ceremony. “It doesn’t stop war or alleviate suffering, but it underscores Reykjavík’s support for Kyiv and Icelanders’ support of Ukraine. And perhaps it also underscores the need for us to be prepared to stand with Ukraine and welcome Ukrainians with open arms for as long as the war continues.”

Kristófer Gajavsky, who has been part of efforts to support Ukrainian refugees in Iceland, said that the location of the square was important. “We can definitely say that this is a thorn in their side, that we’re all here, standing together against the war.” The square will be a symbol of hope for Ukrainians in Iceland, Kristófer continued. “For us, this is a day of celebration.”

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.

Government Property Agency Seeks Short-Term Housing for Ukrainian Refugees

Reykjavík apartments construction

The Government Property Agency is working to secure short-term housing for refugees from Ukraine. The agency issued an announcement to this effect on its website, appealing to property owners in Iceland to register accommodations that those arriving could potentially stay in for several weeks before they being moved to those municipalities that have agreed to receive and resettle them.

In order to qualify, the property must more than 20 rooms and “high-quality facilities for people in vulnerable circumstances.” The agency is specifically seeking housing—either in apartments, guesthouses, or hotels—that can house up to 50 individuals, including children, in the same building. Sought-after amenities include refrigerators in each room, shared cooking areas and/or an on-site restaurant, common areas, wifi, and laundry.

Parties who believe they have suitable housing to offer, either for free or as paid rentals, can register via a form (in Icelandic) on the Property Agency’s website. Filling out the survey does not constitute a formal agreement to provide said accommodations, rather is part of an ongoing market survey to determine housing availability.

Special Article Triggered to Assist Ukrainian Refugees

Jón Gunnarsson Minister of Justice

The Minister of Justice has decided to trigger article 44 of the Foreign Nationals Act in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, RÚV reports. The article, activated for the first time in history, concerns the collective protection of foreign nationals in the event of mass exodus.

Solidarity among European ministers

Yesterday, the national ministers of EU member states agreed to provide special protection for Ukrainians in mass flight following the Russian invasion. Icelandic Minister of the Interior Jón Gunnarsson attended the meeting in Brussels and subsequently spoke to a reporter from RÚV.

“EU member states decided to trigger the (temporary protection directive), involving the collective protection of individuals that are party to a mass exodus. There was great solidarity among the European ministers,” Jón Gunnarsson stated.

“I have, therefore, decided to trigger article 44 of the Foreign Nationals Act, which concerns collective protection in a mass flight situation. This will expedite our reception of refugees.”

Circumventing the overburdened asylum system

Although Ukraine is not part of the passport-free Schengen Area, Ukrainian nationals are “entitled to visa-free travel for up to 90 days.” The triggering of the directive aims to offer a long-term solution in the event that the 90-day limit is exhausted.

As noted on the website of the European Commission, temporary protection is an “exceptional measure to provide immediate and temporary protection to displaced persons from non-EU countries and those unable to return to their country of origin.” The measure applies when the standard asylum system is at risk of not being able to cope with the demand stemming from a mass exodus.

An “historic moment”

When asked if this meant that this would remove all uncertainty for Ukrainians fleeing the invasion – as they would receive immediate protection without the delays that often accompany the standard processing of applications – minister Jón Gunnarsson replied in the affirmative:

“Yes, on the basis of this legislation, they’ll receive protection without going through the system. This is the first time that this article is triggered in Iceland. It’s a kind of historic moment. We have opened our borders to these people, and there are a few who have already arrived. This will simplify our work and make the process more efficient.”

The minister’s decision will be introduced before Parliament today.

 

(The first two paragraphs of article 44 on the Foreign Nationals Act:

“In a case of mass flight the Minister may decide to apply the provisions of this article. The Minister also decides when authorisation to provide collective protection under paras. 2 and 3 shall cease.

A foreign national who is a member of a group which flees a specified region and arrives in Iceland, or is in Iceland when the provisions of the article are applied, may upon application for international protection be granted protection on the basis of a group assessment (collective protection). This entails that the foreign national will be granted a residence permit under art. 74. The permit cannot serve as basis for the issue of a
permanent residence permit.”)