Police in Finnmark said Wednesday that a 47-year-old Russian/British citizen was arrested in Hammerfest, northern Norway on October 17th for using a drone in Svalbard and other locations.
“The police arrested the man on October 17th in Hammerfest and have seized drones and electronic devices that are for technical review. The content from the drones is of great importance to the case,” police said.
The man is reported to be the son of a close ally to Russian President Vladimir Putin, The Barents Observer reports. 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, news agency AFP reports.
He is charged with breaking sanctions against Russian citizens using drones in Norway that were introduced earlier this year.
Yakunin will be remanded in custody for two weeks, police attorney Anja Mikkelsen Indbjør told public broadcaster NRK.
Under sanctions introduced earlier this year, Russians are prohibited from operating drones in Norway. Yakunin argued in court that he should be considered a British citizen and that his home address is in Italy, requesting that he should be exempted as the sanctions cover Russian Citizens.
The latest arrest has been met with strong words from Norway’s PM, Jonas Gahr Støre.
“It is not acceptable for foreign intelligence to fly drones over Norwegian airports and defences. Russians are not allowed to fly drones in Norway,” he told reporters at a trade union event on Wednesday.
“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,” he said.
The Norwegian Police Security Service (PST), responsible for intelligence and counterterrorism in Norway, said Wednesday it would be taking over investigations into recent drone sightings and arrests involving Russian citizens.
“In order to ensure a comprehensive investigation of these various incidents, the Attorney General has decided that PST will have centralised investigative responsibility when it comes to illegal drone activity on a national basis,” assistant PST chief Hedvig Moe said at a press conference.
Over the past week, seven Russian citizens have been arrested for either using or possessing a drone or being found with photography equipment in areas where a general photo ban prohibits the public from taking pictures.
On Monday, Norway’s intelligence service and the country’s Justice Ministry asked the public to remain vigilant.
Following the Nord Stream gas pipeline blasts in the Baltic Sea in late September, which are widely assumed to be the result of sabotage, Norway has moved to beef up security as it has replaced Russia as western Europe’s leading natural gas supplier.
In recent weeks, there have been several drone sightings in the vicinity of gas and power plants (such as the Kårstø plant in Tysvær and offshore facilities in the North Sea) and airports (such as the Sola Airport close to Stavanger and Bergen Flesland Airport) in Norway.