Norway’s prime minister has warned his country will take action against foreign intelligence agencies that fly drones over its critical infrastructure, including oil rigs and airports, after the arrest of seven Russians in possession of the aerial vehicles.
Oslo and other western capitals are on high alert after the sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipelines between Denmark and Sweden last month and numerous sightings of drones near oil and gas facilities, power plants and other critical infrastructure.
Norway’s intelligence service said on Wednesday that it would take over the investigation of the increasing number of recent incidents involving drones. The announcement came on the same day as the airport in Bergen, the country’s second-largest city, was shut down following reports of drones in the area.
It was also disclosed that Norwegian police on Monday arrested a 47-year-old Russian-British dual citizen in the city of Hammerfest accused of flying a drone over the Arctic Archipelago of Svalbard. The arrest came only days after six Russians were taken into custody in three separate incidents in Norway involving drones and unauthorised photographs of sensitive locations.
“It is not acceptable for foreign intelligence to fly drones over Norwegian airports. Russians are not allowed to fly drones in Norway,” prime minister Jonas Gahr Støre said on Wednesday.
Norway has replaced Russia as the biggest gas supplier to Europe after Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February upended the continent’s geopolitics and energy supplies.
Several Norwegian experts have warned that the wealthy Nordic country has been naive about the threat to critical infrastructure, such as gas pipelines, after a number of recent incidents, including the cutting of an internet cable to Svalbard, located more than 500km north of the mainland.
The warnings have been heightened since explosions last month beneath the Baltic Sea off Denmark damaged the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines meant to carry gas between Russia and Germany.
“There has been a big lack of recognition of how strategically important Norwegian energy production . . . has been for Europe,” Ståle Ulriksen of the Royal Norwegian Naval Academy told state broadcaster NRK. He added that Norwegian authorities had “naively” ignored espionage warnings from local intelligence services.
The 47-year-old accused of flying a drone over Svalbard is the son of a Russian businessman who is a longtime friend and confidant of Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, according to the Barents Observer.
Addressing a trade union meeting on Wednesday, Støre said there was no direct threat to Norway but the security situation was serious.
“We do not want anyone to fly this type of device over important installations in Norway. We say no to it and we are going to pursue it and stop it,” the prime minister added.
Støre stressed that Norway had looked at its nuclear preparedness “from A to Z”, as he called Russia a militarised, radicalised and in many ways totalitarian society.
Last week, a Russian man was held for flying a drone close to Tromsø airport in the north of the country, four Russians were arrested for taking pictures of sensitive areas and another was caught trying to leave the country with a drone.
Russia’s embassy in Oslo accused Norway of hysteria and paranoia in arresting what it called tourists photographing “the country’s beautiful nature”.