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Russian neighbor Norway raises military alert after drone sightings

Soldiers from the Norwegian Armed Forces operate a tank as they participate in military exercises with NATO troops in Setermoen, Norway, on March 22. (Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images)

Norway, a NATO member that shares a 120-mile border with Russia, raised its military alert level starting Tuesday, citing Russia’s war in Ukraine after suspicious drone sightings put the country on edge.

Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store maintained there was no immediate threat in Norway, but said Europe was facing its “most serious security policy situation in decades.”

“Today, we have no reason to believe that Russia will want to involve Norway or any other country directly in the war. But the war in Ukraine makes it necessary for all NATO countries to be more vigilant,” he told a news conference Monday.

The change in military alert level includes having some troops spend less time on training and a heightened focus on “maritime surveillance,” Norwegian Defense Minister Bjorn Arild Gram said. Watching over the North Sea and protecting oil and gas installations “is a high priority,” Gram told reporters. Norway’s Home Guard, a rapid mobilization force, will also boost its presence, officials said without elaborating about the security changes.

The drone sightings in recent weeks prompted a Norwegian intelligence investigation and the detention of at least seven Russians — including the son of an associate of President Vladimir Putin — for flying drones or taking photos in certain zones. The unmanned aerial vehicles were reported around Norway’s airports and its offshore oil and gas fields, a pillar of the country’s economy.

Norway on edge over drone sightings, arrest of son of Putin confidant

Norway, now a vital natural gas supplier in Europe, and other countries have sought to tighten security around key infrastructure since the September explosions that hit the Nord Stream pipelines, built to carry natural gas from Russia through the Baltic Sea. European leaders blamed sabotage, and Norway’s armed forces have since said they have increased naval operations in the North Sea alongside NATO forces.

The Norwegian prime minister cast the drone sorties this month as “foreign intelligence,” indirectly pointing to Russia. Norwegian authorities have said the goal of the drones may be to trigger fear, reassuring citizens of an overall low risk of attack.

Following the announcement of the heightened alert level, Norway’s prime minister told a reporter that people would probably not notice big changes in their daily lives, and that it would be most visible along the coast and at facilities where the Home Guard is stationed.

Fears of a spillover from the war in Ukraine have pushed Nordic countries to reinforce their borders with Russia, and Norway’s neighbors, Sweden and Finland, to apply to join the NATO defense alliance in a tectonic shift with strong U.S. backing.

Emily Rauhala and Sammy Westfall contributed to this report.

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