Iceland President Cancels Ukraine Trip

President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson.

President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson cancelled a visit to Ukraine over safety concerns. The trip was scheduled for Easter Sunday, Mbl.is reports.

Security concerns

Among the events scheduled for President Guðni’s visit were a meeting with Volodymyr Zelenskyy, president of Ukraine, followed by a ceremony for the two year anniversary of the Bucha massacre when Russian troops invaded the city. The president was to attend a conference following the ceremony.

Due to security concerns, the Ukrainian government cancelled the event. In the last few days, Russian troops have increased the number of missile and drone strikes, affecting energy infrastructure.

Presidential election coming up

President Guðni is enjoying his last few months in office, with a presidential election set for June 1. In his New Year’s Day address on January 1, he announced that he would not run again after two terms in office, totalling eight years.

Among the candidates are Baldur Þórhallsson, professor of political science, and Halla Tómasdóttir, CEO of B Team, while comedian Jón Gnarr is expected to announce today whether or not he will run. Among other rumoured candidates is Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir.

Iceland’s EURO Dreams Shattered Following 2-1 Loss to Ukraine

Icelandic fans at the World Cup in Russia in 2018

Iceland’s dream of a spot in the UEFA European Championship in Germany this summer was shattered in Wroclaw, Poland, last night. Iceland lost 2-1 to Ukraine, despite an admirable performance.

Tense atmosphere

The atmosphere in Wroclaw was considerably more tense compared to that of Budapest last Thursday, where Iceland secured their place in the playoffs final by beating Israel. Ukrainian supporters outnumbered those of Iceland in the stands.

Åge Hareide made three changes to yesterday’s squad since Thursday, with Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson, Jón Dagur Þorsteinsson, and Andri Lucas Guðjohnsen entering the starting lineup. Both teams had decent opportunities in the opening minutes of the match, which were marked by some nervousness.

Iceland scored the opening goal of the match, with the team executing a clever passing sequence that ended with Albert Guðmundsson – who scored a hat-trick against Israel – received the ball at the edge of the penalty area. Dancing nimbly with the ball, he carved out space for a shot, with his left foot finding the bottom corner.

Almost ten minutes later, Ukraine managed to equalise. However, the goal was rightfully ruled offside. The score remained 1-0 at halftime.

Heartbreak in the second half

Ukraine started the second half brightly. In the first five minutes of the second half, they earned three corners, which the Icelandic defence managed to repel. As noted by Vísir, just as the Icelandic team seemed to be weathering the storm, Ukraine struck; Iceland launched a promising attack that fizzled out after a good run by Jón Dagur Þorsteinsson. The Ukrainians were quick to counter. Viktor Tsygankov found space on the right and placed the ball into the far corner, past goalkeeper Hákon Rafn Valdimarsson. 1-1.

As the second half wore on, Ukrainian pressure mounted, and the Icelandic team found themselves increasingly pinned back. Ukraine eventually found the winning goal, exploiting lapses in the weary Icelandic defence. Viktor Tsygankov found Mykhailo Mudryk with too much space in the penalty area, with the latter slotting the ball into the far corner.

The Icelandic team did everything they could to equalise following the goal, but Ukraine was savvy and slowed down the game effectively. Iceland launched one final attack in the dying moments of extra time, creating danger in Ukraine’s penalty area – to no avail. Ukraine secured a 2-1 victory, with fans and players alike celebrating the win passionately when the referee blew the final whistle.

It was a heartbreaking result in Wroclaw last night, especially given Iceland’s first-half lead. The dream of a place in the UEFA European Championship this summer has fizzled.

Defense Key in Iceland’s Qualifying Final

football soccer

Iceland’s men’s national football team will play Ukraine tonight in the clinching qualifying match to see which team will advance to the 2024 UEFA European Football Championship in Germany this summer.

The match will take place in Wroclaw in Poland. Iceland defeated Israel 4-1 to advance to this qualifying final, while Ukraine beat Bosnia and Herzegovina 2-1. Either Iceland or Ukraine will take the final spot in Group E this summer along with Belgium, Slovakia and Romania.

Ukraine is ranked number 24 in the world by FIFA, while Iceland sits in 73d place.

Defense key

Football analyst Hörður Magnússon told RÚV that despite a decisive victory against Israel, Iceland’s play was not without flaws. “This was a game that we could have lost, but we earned the win,” he said.

Ukraine is a different opponent altogether, he added. “The Ukraine team is incredibly disciplined. They have four starting players who play in the English Premier League. It’s absolutely clear that the Icelandic team will need to defend better as a whole. They’ll be punished for the most minor mistakes,” Hörður said.

Iceland has a chance

Hörður added that despite Ukraine having a better team on paper, the match will take place at a neutral stadium in Poland. He expects Iceland supporters to attend the game in droves. “I’m not saying it’s going to be a 50/50 match, but we have a chance,” he said. “We’re looking better as a team than we did a year ago, not to mention two years ago.”

Large Drop in Asylum Applications

deportation iceland

Applications for asylum in Iceland dropped by 56% in the first two months of 2024 compared to the same period last year. Only 410 applications were submitted during January and February, with 925 submitted during those same months in 2023.

Costs to go down substantially

If this trend continues, authorities will process between 2,000 and 2,500 applications from asylum seekers this year, a drop of 40-50% from last year, Heimildin reports. This would mean that the cost of asylum services, which has been heavily criticised in the Icelandic political sphere in recent months, would drop by a third, from ISK 17.7 Billion [$130 Million, €119 Million] this year to ISK 11.5 Billion [$84 Million, €77 Million]. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour expects costs to drop even further if the speed of processing applications can be increased.

Most applications from Ukraine and Venezuela

In 2023, 4,155 people applied for asylum in Iceland. The vast majority were arriving from Ukraine and Venezuela. Both of these groups were given additional protection during the process due to conditions in their home countries. Additional protection for people arriving from Venezuela, however, was revoked last year. Due to this decision, many Venezuelans were left without a work permit in Iceland, but received financial support from the state while the decision to revoke protection was in appeals process. Outside of these two groups, only 951 applications for asylum were submitted last year.

Iceland to Increase Funding for Ukraine

bjarni benediktsson

In a meeting of the cabinet of ministers yesterday, Foreign Affairs Minister Bjarni Benediktsson introduced a motion of Iceland’s support for Ukraine from 2024 to 2028. Funding for Ukraine will be increased from last year and Iceland’s funding will be on par with what the other Nordic countries have pledged.

“Today marks two years since the beginning of Russia’s illegal and unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine,” Bjarni said in a press release from his ministry. “This war of aggression is the most serious security threat facing Europe since the end of World War II. A long-term plan of support will mark a turning point demonstrating our serious commitment to support the struggle of the Ukrainian people for as long as necessary.”

Broad political support expected

Should the motion pass, a minimum amount of funding for Ukraine will be secured for the next few years, even if funding will be determined in the annual budget each year. The motion will be presented to all parties in Alþingi, Iceland’s parliament, and in the Foreign Affairs Committee in the coming days.

The press release goes on to say that support for Ukraine in Alþingi has remained strong across party lines. “Ukrainians have been fighting for our fundamental values for two years now,” Bjarni said. “Iceland’s sovereignty is based on compliance and respect for international law by all, thus it is no hyperbole to state that our long-term support for the security and independence of Ukraine is also a long-term support for the security and independence of Iceland.”

Iceland to Close Embassy in Moscow

Minister for Foreign Affairs Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir

The embassy of Iceland in Moscow will be shut down on August 1, according to a press release from Iceland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Icelandic authorities have also requested the Russian embassy in Reykjavík scale down its operations so there is no longer a Russian ambassador in Iceland. These changes do not mean a complete severing of diplomatic relations between Iceland and Russia, however.

Ukraine’s Minister for Foreign Affairs thanked Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir, his Icelandic counterpart, for the decision to suspend operations of its embassy in Moscow and request Russia to limit the operations of its embassy in Reykjavík. “Russia must see that barbarism leads to complete isolation. I encourage other states to follow Iceland’s example,” he tweeted.

Þórdís Kolbrún told RÚV that the decision was made after extensive consideration, adding “it is not suitable for there to be so much Russian activity here in Reykjavík because of how relations are very limited and will continue to be until the Russians decide to behave in a different way than they are doing now.”

Iceland has operated an embassy in Moscow since 1944 with the exception of 1951-1953. The last time there was no Russian ambassador in Iceland was 1948-1954. “The decision to close down the embassy’s activities does not imply the termination of the diplomatic relationship between the countries,” the press release from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs states. “As soon as conditions permit, emphasis will be placed on resuming the activities of the Icelandic embassy in Moscow.”

Ukrainian War-Damages Registry Approved at Reykjavík Summit

Reykjavík Summit 2023

During the Reykjavík Summit of the Council of Europe this morning, European leaders signed an agreement to establish a “Register of Damage” for the war in Ukraine. PM Katrín Jakobsdóttir has stated that it is important that Russia is held to account for its war of aggression in Ukraine, Mbl.is reports.

43 countries already signed the agreement

This morning, European leaders approved a so-called “Register of Damage” at the Reykjavík Summit of the European Council. As noted by Mbl.is, it is assumed that the registry, designed to hold Moscow to account, will be operational for three years, recording data and claims due to damages and losses incurred by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Mbl.is reports that a total of 43 countries, alongside the European Union, have already signed, or announced their intention to sign, an agreement to the establishment of the registry. Several countries have, however, dropped out: among them Turkey and Hungary – both of whom are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Armenia, Azerbaijan, Serbia, and Bosnia have announced plans to refrain from signing the agreement.

Marija Pejčinović Burić, Secretary General of the European Council, was quoted by Deutsche Welle (DW) as stating that the creation of the registry was “a first, necessary, urgent step” ensuring “justice that is centred on the victims” of the war.

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir stated that support and solidarity with Ukraine had been a priority during Iceland’s presidency of the Council of Europe and that it was important that the outcome of the summit in Reykjavík was that Russia was held responsible for its attack in Ukraine in a broad way. The Council of Europe should play an important role in this regard.

Mark Rutte, the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, was also present at the signing of the agreement; the Council of Europe’s Register of Damage will be based in the Hague and will also operate a branch in Ukraine.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal welcomed the registry: “We are grateful to the Council of Europe and all the participating countries for providing such support from the highest level of government. We invite other countries from all over the world to join the registry to express their support for the importance of Russian responsibility for its war against Ukraine,” Mbl.is notes.

As noted by DW, the United States, who attended the summit as an observer; Canada; and Japan have also voiced their support for the creation of the register.

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.

Iceland Donates Field Hospital to Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy

Representatives in Alþingi have proposed a resolution to authorise the Foreign Minister to secure the purchase of a mobile emergency hospital for Ukraine.

The mobile emergency hospital would be used by injured Ukrainian soldiers and civilians affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Read more: Zelenskyy to Meet with Nordic Leaders in Helsinki

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, Iceland has also accepted some 3,000 Ukrainian refugees. Iceland’s support from 2022 to 2023 for Ukraine amounts to approximately 4.5 billion ISK [$32 million, €30 million] in humanitarian and financial aid.

The hospital in question is designed to care for both wounded soldiers and civilians, and can be operated independently without connection to existing infrastructure.

Ukrainian authorities have informed Icelandic authorities of the urgent need for mobile field hospitals for wounded soldiers and have requested Iceland’s assistance in this matter. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly expressed gratitude for Iceland’s overwhelming support for Ukraine in his meetings with the Icelandic Prime Minister.

Three hospitals of this type have already been sent to Ukraine, and three more are requested. The production time for such a hospital is about six months, and the estimated cost is approximately 1.2 billion ISK [$8.6 million, €7.9 million].

PM Katrín Jakobsdóttir to Meet Zelenskyy Today

katrín jakobsdóttir ukraine zelenskyy

Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Prime Minister of Iceland, is set to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian officials today, March 14.

With the European Council set to meet in Reykjavík this May, Katrín has previously stated that it’s key for Icelandic leaders to meet with Ukrainian officials, given the central role the Ukrainian conflict will play in the summit.

Prime Minister’s Office Iceland

Katrín and other Icelandic officials were shown some of the signs of the conflict this morning and will meet with Zelenskyy in the afternoon. Katrín and her entourage were also seen laying commemorative wreaths for the victims of the war.

The Prime Minister stated to Morgunblaðið: “We were first shown ruins in Borodianka, apartment buildings that have been blown up, and then we went to talk to some of the residents. Then the road led to Bucha, where newspaper photographs of the mass graves found there are on display. There, we met the mayor Anatolij Fedorúk, who explained the situation to us […] It’s a completely different thing to see this yourself and meet these people, who have been through this horror.”

Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv, was the site of a civilian massacre by Russian troops during the initial invasion in 2022. In April of last year, photographs emerged in the press that indicated that some 400-500 civilians had been summarily executed by Russian forces. The massacre at Bucha has been identified as a likely war crime in the conflict.

katrín jakobsdóttir ukraine zelenskyy
Prime Minister’s Office Iceland

Now, Katrín is on her way to meet directly with Zelenskyy. Among her retinue is also Foreign Minister  Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir.

A major item on the agenda will be Zelenskyy’s participation in the upcoming meeting of the European Council. Although his participation is confirmed, it is not clear yet whether he will be attending remotely, or whether he will come to Iceland for the summit.

Katrín stated further: “We will be reviewing the upcoming meeting in May, as Ukraine will be the focus there. The involvement of the European Council will potentially comprise of assessing damages, possible compensation for Ukraine, and so on.”