There is a risk that information has been intercepted

The armed forces will now investigate the information that the authority rented cabins owned by Russian Kremlin-connected politicians during the NATO exercise Nordic Response in March.

According to Norwegian TV2, who was behind the disclosure, Igor Murar, mayor of Murmansk and member of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s party, owns one of the cottages. Viktor Sajgin, a member of the Murmansk Regional Duma, is said to have bought the other two.

The Swedish defense rented two of the cabins for two weeks. This is confirmed by Ole-Johan Pedersen, representative of the cottage village in Målselv, northern Norway, to TV4 Nyheterna.

Nothing new

But Russians owning properties in the vicinity of various Nordic military installations is nothing new, says Jörgen Holmlund, security expert at the Norwegian Defense Academy. What stands out, however, is that the Norwegian and Swedish armed forces, despite the security aspect, rented the cabins.

– If you are invited to participate in an exercise in another country and are assigned housing, then part of the control lies with the host country, that you are aware that there are Russian interests around a number of cabins. But that does not take away the value that there is a Swedish responsibility, that you have your own control and do your own national security analysis. But I think the Armed Forces have certainly done that.

– So this is probably a joint Swedish-Norwegian responsibility regarding whether it is appropriate to rent from these people, which everyone thinks it is not, says Jörgen Holmlund.

It is important that the Swedish defense makes an analysis

The Norwegian Security Police, PST, has confirmed to Norwegian TV2 that the Norwegian Defense Forces rented the cabins – and that they investigated the matter “for some time”. According to Jörgen Holmlund, it is now important that the Swedish Armed Forces conduct an analysis of how this may have affected Swedish interests.

– It must be ensured that all information handled by those who lived in the cabins, which are owned by Russian interests, that there is no risk of information being lost. Because it could be that there is hidden recording equipment, something Russians have been good at having in various hotel complexes over the years, he says and continues:

– Then the Armed Forces should reasonably ask the host, in this case Norway, for an analysis regarding whether there are risks that parts of the conversations that have been held in the cabins may have been recorded.

So information may have been leaked?

I cannot comment on the risk of information loss, but it is possible.

However, Jörgen Holmlund emphasizes that government employees in Sweden are generally quite good at separating what can and cannot be said in different situations.

– If you are unsure about the accommodation, you make a connection that you talk about the weather and the football results, more than you go through the next day’s exercises.

The other part that is important to highlight is the financial aspect of the Norwegian and Swedish armed forces renting cabins owned by Russians.

– Putin-friendly people get paid for this and it indirectly benefits the Russian power regime and its supporters. In that part, there is reason to be more careful about how and with whom we do business. In this case, I think the mayor of Murmansk belongs to a man you should not do business with, says Jörgen Holmlund.

Difficulties with registers

At the same time, there are certain difficulties regarding the register of property owners.

– The Land Survey does not cover the citizenship of who owns a home, then you can make guesses from different names, that it sounds interesting and then do other checks. But if someone is called Adam Pettersson and is a proxy owner of a home owned by the mayor of Murmansk, that never shows up in this system.

The big problem in itself, according to Jörgen Holmlund, is the aspect that wealthy Russians with connections to Putin can even buy real estate in areas close to the military.

– We will probably think a bit about the law regarding increasing the quality in relation to foreign direct investments in real estate, such as summer cottages, villas and condominiums. This is to have a slightly wider connection in that we do not think that these should be allowed to be owned near different objects.

Another question that should be asked is why, for example, the mayor of Murmansk even wants a cabin near where NATO has air force exercises, adds Jörgen Holmlund.

– It gives more the image of a coordinated pattern from Russia. You have to look at it a little bigger, I think, he says.