Norway arrests Russians for flying drones near energy infrastructure


BRUSSELS — At least seven Russians — including the sons of close associates of President Vladimir Putin — have been detained over weeks for flying drones or taking photos near sensitive areas, Norwegian officials warned on Thursday, That could lead to more arrests, sparking investigations by domestic intelligence services.

The news comes as Norway and other countries move to protect critical infrastructure following the damage to the Nord Stream gas pipeline. It follows weeks of reports of drone sightings at its vast offshore oil and gas fields and, more recently, at an airport in Norway.

On Wednesday, Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gal Stoll blamed foreign intelligence agencies — and indirectly Russia. “It is unacceptable for foreign intelligence agencies to fly drones over Norwegian airports. According to Norwegian broadcaster NRK, the Russians are not allowed to fly drones in Norway.”

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Offshore oil and gas facilities are at the heart of Norway’s economy. Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the country has become an important supplier to energy-starved Europe.

Store’s comments came after a drone was spotted near the airport in the country’s second-largest city, Bergen, temporarily shutting down air traffic.

Authorities also disclosed the arrest of a dual Russian-British man accused of flying a drone over the Arctic Ocean archipelago of Svalbard, allegedly violating a rule banning Russian citizens from flying drones in the country.

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

Police prosecutor Anja Mikkelsen Indbjor told the Barents Observer that when the young Yakunin was arrested, police also seized drones and electronic equipment. “The content of the drone is very important to this case.”

The young Yakunin, who appeared in a Financial Times report about skiing in Norway’s remote Arctic in an 88-foot sailboat, reportedly asked the court to treat him as a British citizen.

His lawyer, John Christian Eldon, said in an email that his client was a British citizen who studied, worked and had family there.

Eldon did not deny that Yakunin flew the drone, but said it was illegal for Russian citizens, not British citizens.

Yakunin’s arrest comes nearly a week after Norwegian police arrested a Russian man for flying a drone over Tromsø airport in northern Norway. On Friday, authorities seized a “large amount” of photographic equipment, including drones and memory cards. Police also found pictures of the airport in the Norwegian town of Kirkenes, near the Russian border, and a Norwegian military helicopter.

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A 50-year-old Russian man was detained the same day on Norway’s border with Russia after he was found carrying two drones and several electronic storage devices, the Associated Press reported. A few days later, four other Russians were detained for taking pictures in areas where photography was not allowed, according to Norwegian officials.

Norwegian authorities say the risk of attack on critical infrastructure is high, but generally low, and the drones may be designed to create fear.

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