Norway Arrests Russian Drone Pilot Amid Clamp Down on Flying in Svalbard

Dual Russian-British national Andrey Yakunin was arrested on Oct. 17 in a Norwegian crackdown on Russians flying drones in Svalbard. He admits to flying the drone but says that the flights that led to his arrest were not malicious, according to The Barents Observer.

The publication, which is based in Norway, details Yakunin’s climbing and sailing activities in Svalbard before his arrest. The reporting includes several statements protesting his innocence.

Norway’s hardline stance on drone flying by Russian nationals began after a sabotage incident on a natural gas pipeline in late September.

According to the Washington Post, Norway is one of Europe’s most critical energy suppliers since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. The country is not a member of the European Union but maintains similar sanctions on Russia in the wake of the invasion.

 

Andrey Yakunin is a 47-year-old Russian-British national currently living in Italy. He is the son of Vladimir Yakunin, the former president of Russian Railways and a close confidant of Vladimir Putin. The younger Yakunin is a longtime sailor and climber. He had come to Svalbard to climb and claimed that his use of drones was purely for route planning and photographic purposes.

a headshot of Andrey Yakunin

Andrey Yakunin. Photo: Twitter

 

“I believe that if I am prosecuted, it will be based on the technicality that I was born in Russia, even though I am a British national and live in Italy,” Yakunin said.

Dual citizenship complicates the case

Norwegian officials seized drones and other electronic devices from Yakunin’s sailboat upon his arrest, said police prosecutor Anja Mikkelsen Indbjør.

“The content [recordings] from the drone is of great importance for the case,” she said.

“It is not acceptable that foreign intelligence is flying drones over Norwegian airports. Russians are not allowed to fly drones in Norway,” Norway’s prime minister Jonas Gahr Store said in reference to the arrest of Yakunin and others.

Yakunin’s Norwegian lawyers pushed back, claiming that while Yakunin has admitted to flying drones in Svalbard, he was traveling on his British passport as a British citizen and that he does not admit criminal guilt.

“There was no information on the Governor’s website about a ban on drone use by foreigners, and consequently our client had no reason to believe that he was banned from this activity,” the lawyers said.

mountains in Svalbard, Norway

Mountains in Svalbard, Norway. Photo: Shutterstock

 

Yakunin’s party did file a list of his yacht’s anchorings and destinations with the Svalbard Governor’s office, as per regulations.

For his part, Yakunin released an anti-war statement in March of this year.

“Please don’t draw an equal sign between Russians, the Russian state, and the Government of the Russian Federation,” Yakunin told the Wall Street Journal.

“There are many Russians strongly opposing the current military action, and I am one of them.”

Andrew Marshall

Andrew Marshall is an award-winning painter, photographer, and freelance writer. Andrew's essays, illustrations, photographs, and poems can be found scattered across the web and in a variety of extremely low-paying literary journals. You can find more of his work at www.andrewmarshallimages.com, @andrewmarshallimages on Instagram and Facebook, and @pawn_andrew on Twitter (for as long as that lasts).