The “Flying Squad” Chechen special forces division has been operating periodically in Norway, Novaya Gazeta reports, based on an analysis of information gathered from social networks.
The Russian news outlet gathered information from Instagram posts, especially photographs and videos of the presumed commandos, as well as geolocations and comments. Novaya Gazeta believes that they have been conducting operations in the Arctic since 2016.
On March 2 last year, a user called bes_600 posted a group of pictures of men in military uniform with the Grozny airport in the background. The caption says that they had flown to the Arctic. In response to another comment, the user said that they had gone to Norway “for work”.
Another user mentioned by the news outlet, akhaev_07_95, published a photograph with the text “Svalbard Lufthavn” (Svalbard airport) on a fuel tanker in the background. The man in the photo is wearing the insignia of the DZ Grozny parachute center.
Novaya Gazeta notes that the user has published multiple pictures with the hashtag of the Russian Special Forces University. RBC reported that the institution is linked to the Akhmad Kadyrov Charity Foundation.
Novaya Gazeta points out that Russian special forces are not allowed to visit NATO states as tourists, and thus concludes that their trips must have been a landing operation. “Of course, a landing operation, because special equipment and weapons cannot legally be brought into demilitarized Svalbard by tourists, even extremely polite ones,” the news outlet explains.
The Russian Special Forces University’s website states that in 2016 the “Flying Squad” conducted an exercise in the Arctic. Novaya adds that in 2018, Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the Chechen Republic, said that drills had been conducted in Murmansk and in Franz Josef Land, but did not mention any trips to Norway.
At the end of September, the Norwegian news outlet Aldrimer reported that Russian special forces had been conducting reconnaissance operations in Norway, especially in Svalbard, citing documents and four intelligence and defense sources from various countries. According to one of its sources, the Russian division “is also well known to NATO from events in Crimea”. The sources observed that the special forces used civilian clothing during their operations in mainland Norway.
The Russian embassy in Norway called the report a fake and “gross provocation” by Aldrimer. “We consider the publication part of systematic work carried out by certain circles in Norway to portray Russia as the enemy,” the diplomatic mission stated.