The British-Russian son of a close Vladimir Putin ally has been arrested in Norway for flying a drone in a restricted area, Norwegian Police said today.
Andrei Yakunin, 47, was arrested on Monday in Hammerfest in northern Norway, according to police and court documents.
Police have accused Yakunin – the son of ex-Russian Railways boss Vladimir Yakunin, who is considered to be close to Putin – of illegally flying a drone in the Svalbard archipelago, located in the geopolitically strategic Arctic region.
He becomes 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.
Soon after police announced the arrest, Norway’s Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store accused ‘foreign intelligence’ services of being behind the recent slew of ‘unacceptable’ drone flights in the country, indirectly pointing the finger at Russia.
‘It is not acceptable that foreign intelligence is flying drones over Norwegian airports. Russians are not allowed to fly drones in Norway,’ Store said, according to Norwegian broadcaster NRK. ‘We do not want anyone to fly this type of craft over important installations in Norway.’
British-Russian national Andrei Yakunin, 47, was arrested on Monday in Hammerfest in northern Norway, according to police and court documents. He has been accused of illegally flying a drone
Yakunin is 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. Pictured: A Norwegian soldier guards a gas processing plant
Yakunin heads up VIY Management, a private equity and real estate investment company that facilitates foreign investment in Russia.
According to the New Yorker in 2015, he once owned a house on North London’s Bishop’s Avenue, a ‘billionaires’ row’ between Hampstead and Highgate. His son is reported to have a attended Highgate School.
It is unclear whether he still owns the house after Britain imposed sanctions on several Russian businessmen following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
Russian investigative publication Insider reported in July that Yakunin publicly stated that he was against the invasion, telling Italian television he ‘never voted for Putin’.
Yakunin’s father Vladimir Yakunin has in the past been among Vladimir Putin’s closest allies. He was the president of Russian Railways from 2005 to 2015. He was sanctioned by Britain April, having already been sanctioned by the US since 2014.
MailOnline has contacted VIY Management for comment.
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.
A number of mysterious drone flights have been observed in Norway in recent weeks, sparking fears of Russian espionage.
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.
Norway’s Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store (pictured in Prague on October 6) accused ‘foreign intelligence’ services of being behind the recent slew of ‘unacceptable’ drone flights in the country, indirectly pointing the finger at Russia.
Pictured: The air traffic control tower at Flesland Airport and a small propeller plane in the air, Bergen, Norway, 19 October 2022. Flesland Airport in Bergen was briefly closed on 19 October after drone sightings
Norwegian police arrested two Russians in two separate incidents last week. They were accused of illegally flying drones and taking photos or videos.
Officers arrested the four in northern Norway in a car with Russian licence plates last Thursday and a day later placed them in custody for a week, regional police said in a statement.
Police have not disclosed what the four Russians – three men and one woman – were interested in but they had taken photos of objects covered by a photography ban.
The four, in their late 20s, had arrived in Norway from Finland in late September or early October.
They were arrested with a ‘substantial’ amount of photos, but have denied any wrongdoing and have claimed they were just tourists, police official Gaute Rydmark told Norwegian television TV2.
Norway’s Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl refused to comment on the matter, but said ‘there is heightened pressure on Norway, from an intelligence point of view’.
Police said the four were not in possession of any drones, unlike the other two Russians arrested last week, also in the country’s north.
In addition to the four last week, two other Russians have been arrested in Norway in recent days. LAst week, Police in Kirkenes detained a 50-year-old Russian when they found two drones in his luggage during a routine stop at the border.
The drones had hours of footage at locations taken across Norway, they said.
On Friday, a 51-year-old Russian was arrested en-route to Svalbard was detained at Tromso airport, also for photographing sensitive objects.
The arrest of Andrei Yakunin brings the total up to seven. ‘The suspect [Yakunin] has admitted flying a drone in Svalbard,’ police official Anja Mikkelsen said.
Yakunin has been placed in custody for two weeks, and drones and electronics in his possession have been confiscated, police said.
Located about 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.
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’.
Yakunin has been accused of illegally flying a drone in the Svalbard archipelago, located in the geopolitically strategic Arctic region (pictured, file photo)
On Wednesday, a drone was observed near the airport in Bergen, Norway’s second-biggest city, briefly suspending air traffic. The Airport was shut down at around 6.30am (5.30BST) and reopened two and a half hours later.
With 15 gates, it is Norway’s second-largest airport and serves more than six million passengers a year, according to the airport’s website.
Numerous drone sightings have been reported near Norwegian offshore oil and gas platforms and infrastructure in recent weeks.
Airport operator Avinor told NRK on Tuesday that 50 possible drone observations have been reported at 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.
On Monday, Norwegian justice minister Emilie Enger Mehl asked people to be aware of suspicious activity and said that domestic security agency PST had received a number of new drone tips.
Norway’s domestic security agency has now taken charge of the investigation into the drone sightings the country’s far north.
Hedvig Moe, deputy chief at PST, the intelligence agency’s acronym, said there was ‘an elevated intelligence threat from Russia’ and that ‘Russia is in a pressed situation as a result of the war and is isolated by sanctions’ over its war in Ukraine.
‘We are in a tense security-political situation, and at the same time a complex and unclear threat picture that can change in a relatively short time,’ she said.
Pictured: Norwegian Home Guard (Heimvernet) soldiers assist the police with increased security, at the Karst gas processing plant in the Rogaland county, Norway, on October 3, 2022
Norway has also beefed up security at its offshore oil and gas drilling platforms after the drone sightings and last month’s Nord Stream gas pipeline blasts in the Baltic Sea, widely assumed to be the result of sabotage.
The Scandinavian country has overtaken Russia as the main supplier of natural gas to Western Europe after the invasion led to a cut in energy imports from Moscow.
On Sunday, the airspace around Norway’s oil capital Stavanger was briefly closed after a drone was observed in the southwest region.
On Friday, satellite images showed that Russian president Vladimir Putin had increased the number of his strategic nuclear bombers stationed at an airbase near the Finnish and Norwegian borders.
The move came amid high tension over whether Putin plans to launch an atomic attack in Europe and his on-going invasion of Ukraine, which has suffered a string of embarrassing setbacks in recent months.
Vladimir Putin has again increased his strategic nuclear bombers at an airbase near the Finnish and Norwegian borders, say reports. Pictured: A satellite image taken on October 7, 2022 shows seven Tu-160 strategic bombers (marked in red) and four Tu-95 aircraft (marked in yellow) at the Olenya airbase, Russia Kola Peninsula
The disclosure came from Faktisk.no – an independent Norwegian fact checking website – which obtained the data from American satellite operator Planet.
The buildup above at the air base follows international concern over another report two weeks ago, when The Jerusalem Post revealed there was an ‘unusual deployment’ of seven nuclear bombers at the airbase.
This was highlighted by Israeli intelligence firm ImageSat International which detected the ‘irregular presence’ of TU-160s and TU-95s. The Armageddon planes are usually stationed at Engels Air Base, 450 miles south-east of Moscow.
Now, however, the bombers are stationed around 115 miles away from the border of NATO member Norway, and about 95 miles away from the soon-to-become Alliance member, Finland.