Russia accused of stealing Swedish cameras for terrifying drones

Ukraine: Police shoot down drone with guns in Kyiv

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As speed cameras vanish across Sweden at an alarming rate, the Russians have another crime to add on to the list of allegations it has been hit with in recent months. There is speculation they have been stealing parts from speed cameras and using them to build home-made surveillance drones deployed in Ukraine. More than 150 of the devices from roadside poles in rural areas have reportedly been mysteriously vandalised or stolen, with most thefts said to be occurring between midnight and 3am, leaving the authorities baffled. 

According to the Swedish authorities, in eight days at the end of August in Stockholm and Uppsala alone, at least 70 cameras with a value of 250,000 Swedish kronor (£19,780) each were ripped out. 

While incidents of theft began to die down in September, they started up again this month during the early hours of the morning. Given that it was recently discovered a camera of a similar type in a home-made Russian drone was sent to Ukraine on a reconnaissance mission, Moscow has been accused of committing the attacks. 

The Ministry of Defence in Kyiv has for instance posted a video of one of these makeshift drones which crashed and can be seen being taken apart to expose a camera attached with Velcro to a steel plate.

The crashed Russian Orlan-10 an unmanned aerial vehicle that can be seen is in the footage is shown to have a Canon EOS 800D DSLR equipped with an 85mm lens. The camera body is connected to a metal plate with a number of wires connected to it and the lens pokes out through the drone’s surface.

While the Swedish Government has so far been hesitant to make any definitive statements to directly accuse Russia of the crimes, local news in the region reports that the Swedish Security Service is aware of this information which connects the thefts to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Police argue that unlike earlier instances of vandalism, which usually happen when an angered motorist simply destroys the camera by knocking it over or smashing the lens, the recent spate of thefts has involved thieves breaking into the cabinet which contains the device’s internal parts. 

They include a radar sensor to measure speed, a flash unit to illuminate a speeding subject, image processing hardware and – most notably – a DSLR camera.

After the cabinets are busted open, the suspects have only been grabbing this camera, leaving behind all the other equipment. Hans Liwang, an associate professor at the Norwegian Defence Academy, told Swedish media the stolen cameras could be getting added to Russian drones via an emerging black market.

This also comes as Swedish industrial companies have reported several burglaries in recent months. According to Johan Sjoberg, an expert on security policy for the Swedish Business Association, there are suspicions that perpetrators were “acting on behalf of foreign interests connected to the war in Ukraine”, the newspaper Dagens Industri reports.

However, Eva Lundberg, of the Swedish Transport Administration, told the Times the camera in the drone intercepted by the Ukrainians was a Canon, whereas the Swedish speed cameras use only Nikons.

She added that the Nikon cameras are focused at a specific distance and “not possible to adjust”. While the videos of recovered Orlan-10 UAVs have all appeared to have Canon DSLRs so far, the focusing mechanisms are said to be fixed to the devices in a similar way.

The Russian Orlan-10 drone is a medium-range, multipurpose unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) system intended for a number of different purposes, including aerial reconnaissance, observation, monitoring, search and rescue, combat training, jamming, detection of radio signals, and target tracking.

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However, Alexander Lord, Eurasia Analyst from Sybiline, told that the drones are also capable of carrying “up to four high-explosive fragmentation projectiles”. This model of drone was reportedly developed by the Special Technology Center (STC) in Saint Petersburg for the Russian Armed Forces.

While the cameras found in the Orlan-10’s collected by Ukrainian forces are said to be a different model to that found in Swedish speed cameras (according to Ms Lundberg), this has not prevented the Swedes from rife speculation.

This has become particularly prominent following the “sabotage” of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines last month, in which blasts were reported in Swedish waters as gas leaked out into the Baltic Sea. 

While Moscow denied any involvement in the incident, Western officials have repeatedly blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for deliberately attacking the system. Swedish prosecutors are launching a criminal investigation.

Sweden’s public prosecutor Mats Ljungqvist said in a statement earlier this month: “We can conclude that there have been detonations at Nord Stream 1 and 2 in the Swedish exclusive economic zone that have led to extensive damage to the gas pipelines”. He added that the “crime scene investigation had strengthened the suspicions of aggravated sabotage”. 

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