Norway on edge over mysterious drone sightings and arrest of Russians

BRUSSELS — Norwegian officials warned Thursday that there could be more arrests after at least seven Russians were detained in the span of weeks for flying drones or taking pictures near sensitive areas, prompting an investigation by the domestic intelligence service.

The news comes as Norway and other countries move to secure critical infrastructure in the wake of the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines. It follows weeks of reports of drone sightings in its vast offshore oil and gas fields, as well as recent sightings at Norwegian airports.

On Wednesday, Norway’s prime minister, Jonas Gahr Store, blamed foreign intelligence — and indirectly pointed a finger a Russia. “It is not acceptable that foreign intelligence is flying drones over Norwegian airports. Russians are not allowed to fly drones in Norway,” he said according to Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

Offshore oil and gas installations are central to Norway’s economy. Since the Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the country has become a critical supplier to energy-starved Europe.

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

Authorities also disclosed the arrest of a dual Russian-British national who stands accused of flying a drone over Svalbard, an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, allegedly violating a rule that bars Russian citizens from flying drones in the country.

The man, Andrei Yakunin, is the son of is the son of Vladimir Yakunin, a former president of Russian Railways and an associate of President Vladimir Putin. The elder Yakunin was sanctioned by the United States in the wake of Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea.

When the younger Yakunin was arrested, police also seized drones and electronic devices, Police Prosecutor Anja Mikkelsen Indbjor told the Barents Observer. “The content from the drone is of great importance for the case.”

The younger Yakunin reportedly asked the court consider him a British citizen. His lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A man by the same name was once featured in a Financial Times story about using his 88-foot sailing yacht to go skiing in Norway’s remote arctic.

Yakunin’s arrest comes roughly a week after Norwegian police arrested a Russian man after he was caught flying a drone above an airport in Tromso, in northern Norway. The authorities seized a “large” amount of photography equipment, including the drone and memory cards. Police also discovered photos of the airport in Kirkenes, a Norwegian town near the Russian border, and of a Norwegian military helicopter.

A 50-year-old Russian man was also detained at Norway’s border with Russia after he was found to be carrying two drones and several electronic storage devices, according to the Associated Press. Four other Russians were detained days later for taking pictures of areas that are not allowed to be photographed, according to Norwegian officials.

Norwegian authorities have said that there is a heightened risk of an attack on critical infrastructure, but that the overall risk remains low, and that the purpose of the drones may be to create fear.

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