Ex-KGB officer's superyacht to finally leave Norway after being stranded

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Ex-KGB officer's superyacht to finally leave Norway after being stranded
A 68 meters luxury yacht called Ragnar, owned by a former KGB officer, Russian oligarch Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, is pictured at the quay in Narvik, north Norway on March 21, 2022. - Local fuel suppliers refuse to refill the vessel since it arrived at the Narvik port on February 15, 2022, although its owner, linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin, is not on the EU sanctions list. Photo by Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP

An ultra-luxurious yacht owned by a Russian oligarch and former KGB officer may soon be on its way again after weeks of being refused fuel by Norwegians.


The converted icebreaker is docked in the port of Narvik, a small town in Norway's far north, where it has been snubbed by fuel suppliers in protest over the Ukraine war.

With its imposing bow and helicopter platform, its dark grey silhouette stands in contrast to the cargo ships that come to load iron ore transported from a mine in neighbouring Sweden.

But, it is the identity of its owner which makes it a local curiosity: the 68-metre (223-foot) yacht, said to house a host of toys -- like jet-skis, snowmobiles and ROVs, as well as amenities like an English pub -- belongs to Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, according to various yacht industry sites.

T he 67-year-old businessman, who became extremely wealthy after a stint as the head of the mining giant Norilsk Nickel, is said to have links to Vladimir Putin, with whom he served in the KGB in Saint Petersburg, when the city was still called Leningrad.


Although he is not on the list of Russians targeted by European sanctions following the invasion of Ukraine, his alleged ties to the Russian leader has spooked locals and when the Ragnar needed to refuel in Narvik, where it anchored on February 15, no one there would sell him fuel.

'Let them row'

"I have no sympathy for the conduct of the Russians in Ukraine. Why should we help them?" argued Sven Holmlund, director of one of the local suppliers.

"Let them row home. Or hoist sails," he told Norwegian public broadcaster NRK.

Unable to leave, the yacht has been condemned to stay in port for five weeks now.

There, it has seen NATO warships participating in the Cold Response 2022 exercise, currently taking place in Norway.

This week, the Russian oligarch's ship was even moored next to the Italian aircraft carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi.

The yacht's captain, a former Royal Marine, has not hidden his frustration.

In a note posted in the harbour, Rob Lankaster said he and his crew were "very disappointed in the double standards" applied by their Norwegian hosts, who agreed to supply Russian fishing trawlers but not the Maltese-flagged yacht he was commanding -- which had an all Western crew, and whose owner he claimed not to know.

According to website Superyachtfan, the Ragnar was put up for sale for 69.5 million euros ($76.5 million) in 2021. But there is no indication that the boat was actually sold.


Sailing on Tuesday?

The case is an inconvenience for Norway's authorities, who have themselves adopted almost all the sanctions imposed by the European Union (EU) but are generally reluctant to anger their powerful neighbour.

Seizing the yacht, as France and Italy have done, has been ruled out since Strzhalkovsky is not among those targeted by sanctions.

Without openly encouraging suppliers to have a change of heart, Norwegian minister for fisheries Bjornar Skjaran has signalled that it might be the easiest solution.

"We can all agree that the best thing now would be for the yacht to continue on its way," he told NRK.

According to the broadcaster, a supplier has finally agreed to sell up to 300,000 litres (about 79,250 gallons) of diesel, which would allow the yacht to set sail on Tuesday.

In the port of Narvik, a tanker truck is waiting near the Ragnar, and the boat's crew, which is said to have 16 members, seems to be in full preparation, an AFP team at the scene noted.

But the crew and officials are tight-lipped.

Only one British man, who seemed to have a management role, agreed to answer a few questions, without giving his name.

As for a departure on Tuesday, he tentatively said 'no', citing unspecified problems with the fuel tank

"The whole situation is absurd," he said.


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