Icelandic leaders split on sanctions against Russia?

Iceland's Foreign Minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson Photo:

Iceland’s Foreign Minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson

There appears to be disagreement within the Icelandic government regarding the support of Western sanctions against Russia.

The European Union agreed Friday to extend its sanctions against Russia, imposed to protest Russian military involvement in Ukraine. Foreign Minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson told DV last weekend that it was out of the question to reconsider Iceland’s participation in the sanctions: “The fact of the matter is that we can’t let our principles yield to temporary interests, no matter if they [those interests] are highly priced,” he declared.

Fréttablaðið reports this morning that both Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson and Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson are unhappy with Gunnar Bragi’s statements and would instead like to proceed with caution regarding declarations about Iceland’s position in the matter.

According to Fréttablaðið, Icelandic authorities have not made any formal decision about extending their participation in the sanctions and will not have to do so until January. Mainly for that reason, Gunnar Bragi‘s fellow ministers are upset about how decisive his statements have been. Another reason for their disappointment is that a report about the business history of Iceland and Russia and the effects of the trade embargo on Iceland’s economy is currently being prepared for the Prime Minister’s Office.

Lately, there have been reports in the media about the effects of Russia’s import ban of Icelandic products, such as the diminishing number of horses slaughtered (since Russian markets used to buy most of the horse meat) and the effects on the Icelandic fishing industry. High-ranking people in the fishing industry have encouraged the Icelandic government to reconsider its position.

In an interview with RÚV this morning, Gunnar Bragi denied reports of the prime minister and finance minister disagreeing with his statements regarding the sanctions. “No,” he said, “because if that were the case, then they would no doubt say that to me.” No one, he said, has discussed this with him.