Norway arrests Russians for flying drones near energy infrastructure

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BRUSSELS – Norwegian officials on Thursday warned there could be more arrests after at least seven Russians – including the son of a close aide of President Vladimir Putin – were arrested in recent weeks for flying drones or flying near sensitive areas had photographed, which prompted an investigation by the domestic intelligence service.

Norway and other countries are scrambling to secure critical infrastructure after the Nord Stream natural gas pipelines were sabotaged. Since then, drone sightings have been reported in Norway’s vast offshore oil and gas fields and at Norwegian airports.

On Wednesday, Norway’s Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store accused “foreign intelligence services” – indirectly pointing the finger at Russia. “It is unacceptable for foreign intelligence agencies to fly drones through Norwegian airports. Russians are not allowed to fly drones in Norway,” he said, according to Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

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Offshore oil and gas assets are central to the Norwegian economy. Since Russia launched its all-out invasion of Ukraine, the country has become a major supplier to energy-hungry Europe.

Store made the remarks hours after a drone was spotted near the airport in Bergen, the country’s second most populous city, and temporarily halted air travel.

Authorities also announced the arrest of a Russian-British national accused of flying a drone over Svalbard, an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, and allegedly violating a rule banning Russian citizens from flying drones in the country to fly.

The man, Andrei Yakunin, 47, is the son of Vladimir Yakunin, a former president of Russian Railways and a Putin confidant. The elder Yakunin was sanctioned by the United States after the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014.

When the younger Yakunin was arrested, police also confiscated drones and electronic devices, Police Prosecutor Anja Mikkelsen Indbjor told the Barents Observer. “The contents of the drone are of great importance to the case.”

Andrey Yakunin, who once featured in a Financial Times story about skiing his 88-foot sailing yacht in Norway’s remote Arctic, reportedly asked the court to consider him a British citizen.

His lawyer, John Christian Elden, said in an email that his client is a British citizen who studies, works and has family in the UK.

Elden did not deny that Yakunin piloted a drone, but said it was illegal for Russian citizens, not British citizens.

Yakunin was arrested nearly a week after Norwegian police arrested a Russian for flying a drone over an airport in Tromso, in northern Norway. On Friday, authorities seized a “large” amount of photographic equipment, including the drone and memory cards. Police also discovered photos of the airport in Kirkenes, a Norwegian town near the Russian border, and a Norwegian military helicopter.

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A 50-year-old Russian man was arrested at Norway’s border with Russia on the same day after he was found to be carrying two drones and several electronic storage devices, according to the Associated Press. Four other Russians were arrested days later for taking photos of areas that are forbidden to be photographed, according to Norwegian officials.

Norwegian authorities have stated that there is an increased but overall low risk of an attack on critical infrastructure and that the purpose of the drones could be to create fear.

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