Although one of Europe's smallest countries and far from Ukraine, Iceland has made extensive efforts to help in Kyiv's fight against Russia's full-scale invasion, David Kirichenko writes.
When Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the Icelandic Parliament on 6 May 2022, only a few months after Russia’s full-scale invasion, he began his speech by greeting them in Icelandic, saying, "Hello, this is Volodymyr from Kyiv."
Highlighting the ancient ties between Iceland and Ukraine, tracing back to Scandinavian settlers who arrived in Ukraine in the 8th century, he highlighted that “the size of a country is of no importance when fighting for democracy.”
The Ukrainian president's words were not just empty phrases meant to get another ally on board.
In fact, they couldn't be more honest and true: as one of Europe’s smallest countries and most distant from Ukraine, Iceland has made extensive efforts to help in Ukraine’s fight against Russia’s full-scale invasion of the country and to protect Europe.
Iceland is no stranger to conflict, and Reykjavik is painfully aware of the threat posed to it due to its strategic location and to Nordic countries as global superpowers like Russia gradually start shifting more resources towards the race for control of the Arctic.
Rushing to Ukraine's aid from the other end of the continent, the island nation of just 350,000 inhabitants has done more than other much larger and more powerful European nations.
And yet, so little remains known about Reykjavik's commitment.
Reykjavik opts for sanctions despite significant consequences
Iceland's steady support for Ukraine against Russian aggression is rooted in a longstanding pledge to uphold democracy and international law.
That is why, when Russia first invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea in 2014, Iceland did not hesitate to impose economic sanctions on Moscow, despite potential consequences on its economy heavily reliant on fishing.
This decision, however, came at a cost for Iceland's fishermen, as Russia retaliated by banning food imports from the island nation.
Even in the face of potential financial consequences, Iceland's foreign minister at the time, Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, boldly affirmed during his 2014 visit to Kyiv that the country's support for Ukraine was unwavering. And it has stood the test of time.
The impact of these sanctions on Iceland has been particularly challenging, as seafood exports constitute a vital component of the national economy, and Russia represents a significant market for these exports.
Nonetheless, Iceland has remained resolute in its stance.
The only NATO member without an army
Despite its lack of a military force, Iceland places tremendous value on its membership in NATO, recognising the pivotal role it plays in safeguarding shared values and upholding a rule-based international order.
Iceland is also Europe's least densely populated country, holding the unique distinction of being the sole NATO member without a standing army.
In fact, it hasn’t had a military ever since it was disbanded in 1869, opting for a small coast guard with four vessels and four aircraft in total.
Despite its size, Iceland played a monumental strategic role during the Cold War, as it allowed NATO allies to station troops on its island and offered its support to assist the organisation in the past.
Even in the post-Berlin Wall era, Iceland's role as a guardian of crucial waterways continues to position it as a valuable ally, despite its absence of military forces.
A show of remarkable solidarity, practical and symbolic
Although directly providing weapons to Ukraine is not feasible, Iceland has contributed by aiding allied nations in the transportation of essential equipment to destinations like Poland.
While Iceland has a non-weapon sales policy, it has helped acquire 10 oil transporting trucks for the Ukrainian army.
The Icelandic government, recognising the paramount importance of oil transportation in bolstering the defence capabilities and manoeuvrability of the Ukrainian military against the backdrop of Russian invasion forces, sanctioned this purchase.
In addition to these vital vehicles, Iceland has extended further support to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, which included the provision of 12,000 pieces of winter clothing.
The country has also already donated three field hospitals to Ukraine, and an additional three are being requested to help treat injured Ukrainian soldiers and civilians. Each field hospital costs about €7.9 million.
On top of that, Iceland has extended remarkable solidarity to Ukraine by not only offering diplomatic and financial backing but also by taking nearly 3,000 Ukrainian refugees while donating close to €500,000 to support the revitalisation of Ukraine's energy infrastructure.
Beyond their generous financial aid, Reykjavik has taken substantial symbolic measures to show its support for Ukraine’s cause.
Icelandic lawmakers officially acknowledged the Holodomor, commonly referred to as the "death by hunger," a famine that occurred between 1932 and 1933 as a result of Soviet government policies in Ukraine that saw millions of Ukrainians starving to death.
On the diplomatic front, Iceland has opted to close its embassy in Moscow. Russia's Foreign Ministry claimed Iceland destroyed bilateral cooperation and stated that any actions taken by Reykjavik that are perceived as anti-Russian in nature will undoubtedly trigger a corresponding reaction.
Safeguarding the continent despite Moscow's sabre-rattling
In today's context, a parallel scenario is unfolding amidst the tense Arctic Ocean, evoking memories of the Cold War era.
As a result, the Kremlin's aggressive behaviour continues to underscore Iceland's strong support for Ukraine.
In 2014, Russia established the "OSK Sever," a Unified Strategic Command, in a bid to fortify security along its vast Arctic borders and safeguard its interests in the region.
In recent years, the Russian air force has exhibited heightened activity across northern Europe. The Kremlin's sabre-rattling is, in fact, growing.
While the trajectory of the Arctic is inclined toward potential conflicts, Iceland is increasingly recognising the importance of safeguarding the European continent from the encroachment of an expansionist Moscow.
And despite the threats, the island nation continues to truly demonstrate that no country is too small to contribute to the collective European defence in Ukraine.
David Kirichenko is a freelance journalist covering Eastern Europe and an editor at Euromaidan Press.
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