As reported by RÚV, a convoy of Russian military ships set off from the northern port of Severomorsk in late summer this year. The expedition was supposed to be a routine Arctic cruise, but it didn’t end that way. The three convoy ships turned west unexpectedly, passing near the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, and then entered Iceland’s waters on August 20. The ships made known their presence to the Icelandic authorities, but Russia did not answer the questions as to why the ships entered Icelandic territorial waters or why the destroyer Severomorsk circled the country.
In a press release from the Russian Ministry of Defense, it was reported that the ships were directed to Iceland to respond to and monitor NATO warships and unexpected air exercises in the northeastern Norwegian Sea, east of Iceland. Iceland’s Foreign Minister Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson said it was highly unlikely that Russia would need to conduct military exercises near Iceland to defend itself. “The Russians, however, have their own approach to international affairs, as we know” Guðlaugur said. Even so, he added, it is not surprising that Russia has used NATO exercises as a pretext for such activity.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met Guðlaugur Þór in Reykjavik last spring, expressing his concern about the behavior of neighboring countries, stating that “There are unresolved issues related to militarization and reconstruction in Norway and the Baltic states”.
Iceland’s defense policy is based on its membership in NATO and the defense agreement signed in 1951 with the United States. Iceland has significantly increased its defense spending in recent times, by 37% between 2017 and 2019. In its 2020 budget, the U.S. Air Force allocated ISK 7 billion to construction projects at Iceland’s Keflavík Airport.