Norway has detained at least seven Russian citizens over the last few days for flying drones and taking unauthorized photos in sensitive locations. In the latest arrest, the drone pilot is reported to be the son of Vladimir Yakunin ― a former KGB general, close associate of Vladimir Putin, and ex-chief of Russian Railways.
Norwegian police disclosed Monday that it had arrested 47-year-old Andrei Yakunin for flying a drone illegally over the geopolitically strategic Arctic archipelago of Svalbard. The suspect, who holds dual Russian and British citizenship, was sent into two-week custody by a court on Tuesday.
The drone and other electronic equipment seized from Yakunin are now being analyzed. Their content is of “great importance for the case,” the police say.
This is the fourth such incident in recent days where police in Norway have arrested Russian citizens on the suspicion of flying drones or taking photos in restricted areas. Under Norwegian law, it is prohibited for aircraft operated by Russian companies or citizens “to land on, take off from, or fly over Norwegian territory.” Those who violate the drone ban can be jailed for up to three years, while the sentence for unauthorized photography can be one year long.
Drone sighting at airport
On Wednesday, the airport in Bergen, Norway’s second-largest city, was shut down briefly after locals noticed a drone in the area. This prompted Norway’s Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store to send out a stern message through state broadcaster NRK:
It is not acceptable for foreign intelligence to fly drones over Norwegian airports. Russians are not allowed to fly drones in Norway. We do not want anyone to fly this type of craft over important installations in Norway. We say no to it, we will pursue it, and we will stop it.
Norway has replaced Russia as the European Union’s leading natural gas supplier after Moscow slashed supplies in retaliation for Western sanctions. The Scandinavian country has been on high alert following last month’s sabotage of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines in the Baltic Sea and numerous drone sightings near its own offshore oil rigs and critical infrastructure.
The investigations into these drone sightings are now being handed over to Police Security Service (PST), the agency which is responsible for intelligence and counterterrorism in Norway. Assistant PST chief Hedvig Moe said at a press conference Wednesday:
In order to ensure a comprehensive investigation of these various incidents, the Attorney General has decided that PST will have centralized investigative responsibility when it comes to illegal drone activity on a national basis.