A suspected Russian spy was arrested in a Norwegian Arctic town this week, adding to fears about Moscow’s activity in the region after a string of recent incidents.
Norway’s domestic security agency said Tuesday it had arrested a man suspected of spying for Russia while posing as an academic from Brazil in the northern town of Tromsoe, about 700 miles north of the capital, Oslo.
The news follows a spate of recent arrests involving drone sightings near critical infrastructure and comes as European countries move to bolster security in the wake of the Nord Stream gas pipelines sabotage. Norway, a NATO member, borders Russia in the Arctic.
The Norwegian public broadcaster NRK first reported that the man who entered the country as a Brazilian citizen was arrested on his way to work at the UiT The Arctic University of Norway, also known as the University of Tromsoe, on Monday, suspected of being a Russian national and working for one of the Russian intelligence services.
The Norwegian Police Security Service, or PST, said in a tweet that it had launched an investigation, adding that the man was suspected of breaching sections of the criminal code involving “illegal intelligence that may damage fundamental national interests” and “illegal intelligence that may damage the security interests of other states.”
The deputy chief of the security service, Hedvig Moe, told Reuters that the man, whose name has not been released, represents a “threat to fundamental national interests” and should be expelled from Norway. She described him as an “illegal agent,” who she said were typically “talent scouts recruiting agents for later, and preparing the ground for other spies to do traditional intelligence work,” according to Reuters.
She declined to say whether a specific event precipitated the decision to arrest him, but added that it was the right point to stop the activity he was involved in, Reuters reported.
NBC News has reached out to the security service for further comment, but has not heard back.
Norwegian Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl said Tuesday she could not comment on the specifics of the case, but added that the ministry had given an advance notice for the revocation of the man’s residence permit and his deportation after a request from the security agency.
“The background for PST’s request to the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, is that they have information that the man is in Norway on assignment for the Russian authorities with incorrect Brazilian identity papers,” she said in a statement.
A spokesperson for the University of Tromsoe said in an emailed statement that it was aware of the arrest of a “Brazilian citizen” in Tromsoe.
“The person concerned was an intern at UiT The Arctic University of Norway, and thus not employed by the university,” the statement said. “He has been associated with the Center for Peace Studies and with some research focusing on hybrid threats.”
The man’s lawyer, Thomas Hansen, told the Norwegian newspaper VG that his client did not understand why he was accused of being a spy and had asked to be released. NBC News reached out to Hansen for further comment.
Marc Lanteigne, an associate professor of political science at the University of Tromsoe, said by phone from Norway that police had asked him some questions about the man who was arrested. He said both he and the arrested man were part of a research network for students and researchers working on different types of security.
He added that they had known each other since August from various functions and projects with the Center for Peace Studies.
Lanteigne said the man appeared quiet, knowledgeable and “fit in very well.” He added that he never aroused suspicion, and had a broad interest in Arctic security, which is not unusual for researchers at the university.
The Russian Embassy in Oslo said in an email it was not aware of the man or the arrest. It said that the “spy mania against Russia has been actively promoted in Norway lately.”
“Everything Russian, whether it be state bodies, private companies or individual citizens, is suspicious and smacks of espionage,” it added.
The latest incident comes after Norwegian media reported at least eight arrests of Russian nationals in recent weeks, suspected of flying drones and taking photos in restricted areas in northern and central Norway.
The flurry of activity unfolded against the backdrop of Russia’s war in Ukraine, which is entering its ninth month with the Kremlin struggling to gain the upper hand on the battlefield while increasingly isolated by Western sanctions and aid to Kyiv.
Norway has reinforced security following the drone sightings close to its oil and gas infrastructure and explosions on the underwater natural gas pipelines between Russia and Europe last month. NATO said it was deliberate sabotage, and Moscow has blamed the West for it.