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Tensions rise in Denmark over Russian boats in Faroese waters

A new documentary revealed two Russian civilian fishing vessels carried hidden radio equipment when docking at Denmark’s Faroe Islands. The Danish government is ringing the alarm bells, but the Faroese are defending their fishing deal with Moscow.

TORSHAVN, Faroe Islands (CN) — In the wake of revelations that Russia has likely been conducting secret military operations and surveillance in Arctic waters for years, the leader of the Danish Conservative People's Party sounded the alarm and called the situation unacceptable.

”It is scary that the Russians are potentially spying on the kingdom’s territory. This is hardcore stuff, and it shows that we may be in a new era,” Søren Pape Poulsen, party head and former minister of justice, said Monday following the release of a new investigative documentary series called "The Shadow War." The documentary came out last week and is a collaboration between the national broadcasting corporations of Denmark, Norway Sweden and Finland – DR, NRK, SVT and YLE, respectively.

The Scandinavian journalists found that several Russian fishing vessels appeared highly suspicious due to odd sailing patterns, oversized antennas and secret departments with radio equipment fit for military communication onboard.

They also reported that two Russian fishing vessels – Lira and Ester – have docked in Denmark's Faroe Islands over 200 times between 2015 and 2022 while carrying complex radio equipment in hidden compartments. More specifically, Norwegian police authorities discovered a well-functioning military radio locked away in a room underneath the deck of both Lira and Ester. In both cases, a person was guarding the radios.

Even though only one episode has been released so far, the series have already caused political stir in the Kingdom of Denmark, which includes the Faroe Islands. The small archipelago nation recently renewed an economically and historically important fishing agreement with Russia despite its ongoing invasion of Ukraine. The agreement allows Russians vessels to dock and stay at Faroese harbors.

The discovery that the same vessels have carried hidden radio systems has evoked strong sentiments in the Danish parliament, where several party leaders are ringing the alarm bells and calling the revelations shocking.

Martin Lidegaard, former minister of foreign affairs and leader of the Danish Social Liberal Party, warned that the Russian surveillance activity can fuel internal tensions within the kingdom.

While Denmark is a member of the European Union, the Faroe Islands are not and have autonomy when it comes to trade agreements.

For the same reason, the island nation has not taken part in the massive food trade boycotts that Denmark and other EU member states have imposed on Russia. Access to Russian waters is important for Faroese ships, and up to a fifth of the annual Faroese gross domestic product comes from the fishing industry. 

On the morning radio show P1 Morgen, the Faroe Islands’ deputy prime minister, Høgni Hoydal, addressed the Danish political concerns - and especially Pape Poulsen’s comment that when it comes to surveillance risks, he doesn´t care for the Faroese fishing agreement – with a reminder that the Faroe Islands are fully capable of assessing risks in their own areas.

”We know [from earlier] this automatic reaction, where [Denmark] plays the imperial card, and I can’t see what good it does," Hoydal said Monday. "The rumors about the naivety of the Faroe Islands in major political matters and in the world situation we are facing are highly exaggerated,."

The deputy prime minister emphasized that Faroese authorities take the revelations very seriously but wish to solve any conflict without military means. He added that the fishing agreement is exclusively Faroese business, and that there are no plans of banning Russian fishing vessels in Faroese waters. 

Last week, upon the documentary´s release, the Kremlin rejected claims of espionage in the Arctic and any strategic use of military equipment.

But according to the Norwegian Police Security Service, the radios on the vessels are military-grade and capable of sending and receiving information. The civilian vessels serve a double function, as they can gather and transmit information to Moscow.

In the documentary, Anders Henriksen, head of the Danish Security and Intelligence Service's efforts against espionage, called it a known fact that Russia engages in espionage in Denmark.

An example of the suspicious activity came last year, when a Russian fishing vessel crossed two underwater satellite cables in the northern Norwegian territory of Svalbard no less than 130 times, before the cables were ultimately damaged.

“Russia does it primarily to improve their foreign and security policy room for action,” Henriksen said.

Categories / Government, International, Media, Politics

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