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Norway says 'foreign intelligence' behind drone flights

AFP 19/10/2022 AFP
Norway has forbidden Russians and Russian entities from flying over its territory © Marit Hommedal Norway has forbidden Russians and Russian entities from flying over its territory

Norway's Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store on Wednesday accused "foreign intelligence" services of being behind a recent slew of "unacceptable" drone flights in the country, indirectly pointing the finger at Russia.

Earlier Wednesday, Norwegian police had announced the arrest of a Russian -- the son of a close confidant of President Vladimir Putin -- accusing him of illegally flying a drone in the Svalbard archipelago, located in the geopolitically strategic Arctic region.

He was the seventh Russian arrested in the past few days suspected of illegally flying drones or taking photos in restricted areas in the Scandinavian country, which shares a border with Russia in the far north.

"It is obviously unacceptable for foreign intelligence to fly drones over Norwegian airports," Store told Norwegian public broadcaster NRK.

His remarks came just hours after a drone was observed near the airport in Bergen, Norway's second-biggest city, briefly suspending air traffic.

Along with several other Western nations, Norway has forbidden Russians and Russian entities from flying over its territory following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, whether by drone or aircraft.

Breaking that ban is punishable by a three-year prison term while unauthorised photography can merit a one-year sentence. 

- High alert -

A number of mysterious drone flights have been observed in Norway in recent weeks.

Combined with the presumed sabotage on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines in the Baltic Sea, the observations have prompted Oslo to beef up security around strategic infrastructure, in particular its oil and gas offshore platforms.

The latest Russian arrested in Norway was identified as Andrei Yakunin, the son of ex-Russian Railways boss Vladimir Yakunin, who is considered to be close to Putin.

Aged 47 and holding British and Russian nationality, Andrei Yakunin was arrested on Monday in Hammerfest in northern Norway, according to police and court documents.

"The suspect has admitted flying a drone in Svalbard," police official Anja Mikkelsen said.

Located about 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) from the North Pole, the Svalbard archipelago is a Norwegian territory strategically located in the heart of the Arctic.

It is home to a relatively large Russian community, and its special legal status enables foreign nationals to mine some of its natural resources.

Yakunin has been placed in custody for two weeks, and drones and electronics in his possession have been confiscated, police said.

On Monday, Russia's embassy in Oslo said "hysteria" in Norway was impacting "ordinary tourists", calling the ban on Russians flying drones "unjustified and discriminatory".

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