Russian oligarchs’ superyachts have been a problem at least since the aggressive war. In late February, in a cloak-and-dagger operation, they drove their magnificent ships out of Western European ports to avoid sanctions. However, yachts should not only be used for luxury holidays, but also have a completely different and secret task.
A debate has flared up in Norway over the dangers posed by superyachts owned by Russian oligarchs. “NZZ” reported on Tuesday. The ships are said to be used for espionage and sabotage purposes. Each time, when entering and exiting the fjord, the yachts passed through the Nyhamna Natural Gas Processing Plant and associated pipelines that link Norway via the North Sea to the UK’s Easington Natural Gas Terminal.
Putin’s “New Submarines”
This gives room for speculation. Ivar Strömmen of the Norwegian Naval Academy in Bergen told Norwegian broadcaster NRK that the Kremlin might be interested in blocking the pipelines. If Moscow cut off Europeans’ natural gas, the substitute supplier Norway would not be able to step into the violation.
Strömmen describes the oligarchs’ yachts as “Russia’s new submarines”. Expensive ships are equipped with complex heliports, satellite systems, scuba and motor boats. Without getting too much attention, you can use them for education. Norway has been very naive here for a long time, said Strömmen.
Yacht with mini submarine and amphibious vehicle
“NZZ” mentions the Ragnar superyacht, which is actually quite suitable for an inconspicuous reconnaissance. Owner: Vladimir Strschalkowski (76), Putin’s confidant (69) and, like his friend, a former KGB officer. The ship’s equipment includes a helipad, a mini-submarine, motor boats and an amphibious vehicle, according to the relevant portal quoted by the newspaper.
In mid-February, Ragnar moored in the port of the North Norwegian city of Narvik. “Is it a coincidence that she arrived there two weeks before the start of Norway’s big NATO Cold Response 2022 maneuver and was due to stay until mid-March?” – asks “NZZ”.
Mysterious sabotage incidents
Speculation in Norway about a possible hybrid Russian espionage involving oligarchs is fueled by two mysterious events in recent months. In November, the oceanic observatory in the Lofoten-Vesteralen region failed. Several kilometers of power and data cables leading to the facility are gone. As a result, the sensors which, according to “NZZ”, can also register the flow of submarines, have failed. And it is this region that Russian warships often pass.
The suspicion of sabotage could not be unequivocally substantiated. Same with the second incident: In January, the operator of a deep-sea data cable between Norway and the Spitsbergen archipelago reported that one of the two lines was damaged. An investigation is underway here – no results yet.
Ragnar has left Norway and is in Turkey. It is not known if she was on a spy mission in the North Sea before the war in Ukraine. A discussion has started in Norway about Putin’s alleged submarines disguised as superyachts. (no)