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Norway detains Russian at border with drones after reports of mystery drones near oil and gas facilities

U.S., EU accuse Russia of sabotaging pipelines
U.S., European Union accuse Russia of sabotaging Nord Stream pipelines 03:36

Oslo, Norway — Norway said Friday it had detained a Russian caught crossing the border in the Scandinavian nation's far north as he returned home with two drones and a cache of photos and videos. The move comes as Norway is on high alert following several reports of mysterious drone sightings close to offshore oil and gas drilling platforms run by major energy producer Norway.

Last month's Nord Stream gas pipeline blasts in the Baltic Sea are widely assumed to be the result of sabotage.

The man, identified as 50-year-old Vitaly Rustanov, was arrested this week at the border post of Storskog, the only transit point between Norway and Russia. A judge at a court in Vadso ordered Rustanov placed in custody for two weeks in line with a police request.

"There are... reasons to believe the accused will try to escape judicial proceedings unless he is placed in provisional custody," the judge ruled. Rustanov was carrying two Russian passports and an Israeli one when arrested, he noted.

With Russia's invasion of Ukraine having led to a huge fall-off of Moscow's energy deliveries, Norway has overtaken Russia as the main supplier of natural gas to Western Europe.

The Ormen Lange land plant, or Nyhamna gas plant in Aukra, which receives and processes gas from the Ormen Lange field in the Norwegian Sea, is seen on October 13, 2022. A major natural gas processing plant in western Norway, a vital source of supply to the U.K., was briefly evacuated on October 13 after a threatening phone call, police said. FRANK EINAR VATNE/NTB/AFP/Getty

Following the Nord Stream explosions and the drone sightings, Norway has increased security around its energy installations. Norwegian media reported that another drone had been seen late Thursday overflying a gas treatment facility at Karsto in the southwest of the country.

Police urged the public to pass on any information as they sought further clues as to who was responsible.

According to the judge's ruling, Rustanov, had admitted to flying drones "across the whole country" but denied any wrong-doing.

In Norway since August, he was carrying a partially encrypted four-terabyte stash of photos and videos when arrested.

"He has explained he was in Norway as a tourist visiting somebody," police official Anja Indbjor told Verdens Gang daily. "He has explained he photographed and flew a drone for private reasons and indicated he likes taking photos and is a photographer."

Norway, along with several other Western countries, has forbidden Russians and Russian entities from overflying its territory following the February invasion of Ukraine.

Breaking that ban is punishable by a three-year prison term.

Rustanov told police he was unaware of the ban.

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