Russian Citizen Arrested in Northern Norway for Drone Flights on Svalbard

In a short amount of time, yet another Russian citizen has been arrested and charged with criminal photography activities on Norwegian territory, most recently in Hammerfest town (as pictured here) on Monday. Last week, the Finnmark Police also received a report about a possible drone observation between the gas plant on Melkøya and Hammerfest Airport. The Police have not given any more information about the specific observation but reiterated that drone flights are prohibited in the five km area around airports. (Photo: Astri Edvardsen).

On Monday, a Russian man was arrested in Hammerfest city in Northern Norway and charged with flying drones on Svalbard. A total of seven Russian citizens have been arrested in the Northern region for photographing illegally in a short amount of time.

On Monday, The Norwegian Police arrested a male Russian citizen in the town of Hammerfest, Northern Norway, on charges of violating the Norwegian flight ban for Russian citizens. In this case, it specifically concerns drone flights on Svalbard. This is confirmed by the Finnmark Police on Wednesday to Dagbladet.

The man is now detained and the Police are in possession of his drones and electronic devices for technical inspection.

According to The Barents Observer, the man is the son of a known Russian businessman, who is reportedly a close ally of Russia's president Vladimir Putin.

The man has admitted to the drone flights on Svalbard, but did not perceive it as illegal as he is also a British citizen, says his lawyer to the latter newspaper. He is also said to have caused a stir in Russian exile media in previous years for expressing strong opposition to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

As part of the sanctions against Russia, Norwegian airspace is closed for all Russian flights. This includes flights conducted by Russian companies, Russian citizens, or for Russian interests (including drone flights). The flight ban, laid down in a sanction regulation, also applies to the airspace above the Norwegian Svalbard islands and Jan Mayen island in the High North.

Multiple arrests in the North

This is the latest in a series of arrests of Russian citizens for illegal photography activities in Northern Norway (and also nationwide).

  • On Tuesday last week, four Russian citizens were arrested in Nordland county for photographing an object subject to a photo ban. They had driven to Norway via Finland and were stopped in a control in the town of Mosjøen. By their own account, the woman and the three men are tourists, and in this case, the police have only found cameras.
  • On the same Tuesday, a Russian citizen was arrested during a control at the Storskog border crossing to Russia, Finnmark county. The man has been traveling throughout Norway and had two drones and partially encrypted image material on storage devices on him. He is currently charged with breaking sanctions law and the sanctions regulations with the aforementioned flight ban. 
  • Last Friday, a Russian citizen was arrested at the airport in the city of Tromsø, Troms county, after photographing infrastructure there. The man had a drone, other camera equipment, and a memory card, and is charged with breaching the aforementioned sanctions regulations. A partial review of his photo material revealed that he has previously photographed Kirkenes Airport, as well as the Norwegian Armed Forces' Bell helicopter in the air space above the town of Kirkenes. He has admitted to flying drones over the city. The man is also said to have been on his way to Svalbard.

The group arrested in Mosjøen will for the time being be detained until tomorrow, Friday. The man arrested at Storskog will be detained until the 28th of October, while the man arrested in Tromsø will be detained until the 29th of October.

Criticism from the Russian embassy

On Monday, the Russian Embassy in Norway commented on the arrests of Russian citizens, especially those in Nordland county, on Facebook.

"We are, with concern, generally registering the psychosis that is unfolding in Norway. Ordinary tourists are suffering, tourists who have openly brought equipment to Norway, and again openly filmed the beautiful Norwegian nature without hiding their purpose of travel, not particularly 'spy-like'," writes the embassy and continues:

"We would also like to note that the regulations which the Norwegian aviation authorities refer to, do not mention drones directly, which probably lead to the unfortunate situation that has arisen. On most official Norwegian websites there is a lack of information about the drone ban for Russians. It is very difficult for a foreigner to find the notice from the Civil Aviation Authority of Norway and the regulation mentioned in the media. The unfounded and discriminatory nature of this measure is also causing concern."

The embassy points out that it and the consulates general in Barentsburg and Kirkenes now have published information about the flight ban on their websites and other platforms. The detained Russian citizens are also given consular assistance, it is stated. 

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This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by Birgitte Annie Molid Martinussen.