Son of Putin-linked Russian oligarch detained in Norway accused of flying drones

Andrei Yakunin also accused of breaching sanctions

Businessman Andrei Yakunin is being held in Norway. Reuters
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The British-Russian son of a Vladimir Putin-linked oligarch has been arrested in Norway on charges of flying drones illegally in Svalbard.

Businessman Andrei Yakunin, the son of ex-Russian Railways chief Vladimir Yakunin, has been detained and will be held in custody for two weeks.

He is also accused of breaching sanctions, which came into force after Russia went to war against Ukraine, said Hedvig Moe, deputy chief of the Norwegian Police Security Service.

He was identified by Norwegian media after being arrested in Norway’s Arctic Archipelago of Svalbard.

His father was placed on the US sanctions list after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

At least seven Russian citizens have been detained over the past few weeks for flying drones or taking photographs of sensitive sites in Norway.

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”.

“It is not acceptable that foreign intelligence is flying drones over Norwegian airports. Russians are not allowed to fly drones in Norway,” Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said.

“We do not want anyone to fly this type of craft over important installations in Norway.”

Norway’s domestic security agency took over investigations of drone sightings near key infrastructure sites hours after the airport in Bergen, the country’s second-largest city, briefly closed after drones were spotted.

Bergen Airport, which is near Norway’s main naval base, shut down at 6:30am when the area’s airspace was closed and reopened 2.5 hours later. Bergen police spokesman Ørjan Djuvik said several drone sightings were reported near the airport.

“There can also be observations that could be other phenomenon, for instance weather,” Mr Djuvik said. “We are sure that there is at least one.”

North of Bergen, a drone was reported near the small, domestic Foerde Airport, which also closed temporarily, Norwegian news agency NTB said.

Numerous drone sightings have been reported near offshore oil and gas platforms and other Norwegian infrastructure in recent months.

Airport operator Avinor told NRK on Tuesday that 50 possible drone observations have been reported at Norway’s civilian airports so far this year, 27 of them since July.

NTB said 17 and 14 drone sightings were reported in 2021 and 2020, respectively, while the number was 44 in 2019.

Other European nations heightened security around key energy, internet and power infrastructure following last month’s underwater explosions that ruptured two natural gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea that were built to deliver Russian gas to Germany.

The damaged Nord Stream pipelines off Sweden and Denmark discharged huge amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the air.

Updated: October 21, 2022, 3:19 PM