A blizzard accompanied by a strong gale hit the Barents Sea on Thursday, causing problems in the far northern reaches of Norway, from the Svalbard archipelago to Troms and Finnmark counties on the mainland. This coincided with the alleged jamming of GPS signals near the Russian border, triggering concerns from law enforcement and rescue services, who rely on navigation to find missing people in extreme weather, the Barents Observer news outlet reported.
At the time of the alleged disturbances, several planes belonging to SAS, Norwegian and Widerøe airlines were in area.
"The Norwegian Civil Aviation Authority confirms that we have issued a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) due to GPS disturbances west of Kirkenes", communications director Frank Gøran Nordheim told the Barents Observer. "According to our routines, all airlines have been notified of GPS disturbances", he added.
Nordheim emphasised that the Civil Aviation Authority is not concerned about aviation safety, pointing out that there are other, ground-based navigation systems in place, which can be used when GPS is not available.
However, Ellen Katrine Hætta, chief of police in Finnmark, stressed that emergency response forces and the police are often dependent on GPS signals when they to move out in response to an alarm amid harsh weather conditions. According to Hætta, GPS jamming is not just a problem for the military; it takes a toll on civilians.
"This is a serious challenge for our emergency preparedness. We do not know when the signals are in place or away", Hætta told the Barents Observer.
Bent-Ove Jamtli, director of the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre of Northern Norway (HRSS) suggested that the GPS signal loss may result in a delay in rescue operations, leading to a greater risk of loss of life.
"In case of emergency, on land, at sea or in the air, the loss of GPS signals can increase the risk of navigation errors and make it take much longer to find a person or group of people in danger", Jamtli told the Barents Observer.
The disturbances were recorded in Finnmark County, which borders on the Murmansk Region of Russia. The warning for pilots flying to the town of Kirkenes, located eight kilometres from the Russian border, is valid until 31 January.
According to Hætta, this is the fifth time since the autumn of 2017 that GPS disturbances have been recorded in this area.
In November last year, the Norwegian Minister of Defence claimed that Russia's Kola Peninsula was the source of the GPS jamming, during the major NATO drill Trident Juncture, the largest on Norwegian soil in several decades.
Russia denied any accusations, while Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova asserted that the Norwegian charges were aimed to "distract" from the scandal surrounding the frigate KNM Helge Ingstad, which sank after a collision with an oil tanker shortly after the drill in November 2018.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied accusations as well, highlighting the trend "to blame all mortal sins on Russia".
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that allegations of Russian jamming should have been discussed directly first.
"If you have a problem or suspicion regarding your wife, I mean, you ask her directly. You don't go to the media and announce your concerns", Lavrov said.