Long day's climb on August 22: Andrey Yakunin reaches the top of Kvasspiggen, one of the most spectacular peaks north on Spitsbergen, the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago.

This was Andrey Yakunin Svalbard adventure before arrested

The son of ex-Russian Railways chief Vladimir Yakunin admits he flew a drone at Svalbard but for the public to know the purposes, he now shares insights from the expedition to the Barents Observer.
October 27, 2022


Andrey Yakunin (47) was detained by Norwegian police earlier in October for flying a drone in Norwegian airspace. He is now in custody in Tromsø while the investigation continues.

“I have done my best to help the police investigation, and I’m hoping this situation will be solved fast,” Andrey Yakunin said via his lawyer.

The Barents Observer has got an insight into Yakunin’s diary notes from the Svalbard sailing and can here show some of the photos taken by himself and his team, including images from the drone that caused the arrest now making worldwide news headlines.

It was in the very north of Spitsbergen, while climbing to the top of Kvasspiggen near Magdelenefjorden, the Russian-born British businessman used the drone.

“Our plan was to emerge from the foot of the summit, use the drone to photograph and scout potential routes and, if possible, make a complete detour around Kvasspiggen,” Andrey wrote in his diary from August 22.

He described the conditions as an “incredible blue bird day.”

“The breath-taking view of the mountain really looked like a mini-Matterhorn, as though it had come straight off a Toblerone box.”


Andrey and his team used the drone both to plan for the safest route and for capturing panoramic Arctic photos from a location few others ever have been.

“With yesterday’s quadcopter malfunctions in mind, we started the day by checking them. And, of course, they both started up and flew perfectly. The miracles of Chinese tech reliability…,” he wrote in his notes.


This is one of the photos taken with the drone by Andrey Yakunin at Svalbard this August. 

Prosecution and investigation 

Police Prosecutor Anja Mikkelsen Indbjør said to the Barents Observer shortly after Yakunin was detained that the police had seized drones and electronic devices from the sailing boat.

She said “the content [recordings] from the drone is of great importance for the case.”

Over the last two weeks, several Russian citizens have been detained for flying drones and taking photos in northern Norway. The country, which is not a member of the European Union but for the most follows the same sanctions on Russia, justifies the clampdown on drone operators with a the rule forbidding Russians and Russian entities from flying drones or other aircraft over its territory.

Norwegian authorities are on the edge over Russians flying drones and taking unauthorized photos in sensitive areas.

Northernmost Svalbard, where Andrey Yakunin sailed the fjords and climbed the mountains, is however likely as far away from critical infrastructure as it is possible to come in Europe.

“I believe that if I am prosecuted, it will be based on the technicality that I was born in Russia, even though I am a British national and live in Italy,” he said via his lawyer.


Andrey Yakunin smiles to the photographer as he nears the peak high up the mountain between Magdelenefjorden and Smeerenburgfjorden at Albert I Land north on Spitsbergen.

“Rush of enthusiasm” 

Climbing the summit of Kvasspiggen took hours.

“Thankfully, the altitude we had already reached allowed us to make a full circumnavigation of the summit with the drone, and what we saw from the northern face gave us a rush of enthusiasm. We quickly went down a rather treacherous couloir to reach the plateau, where another stunning polar landscape opened up,” Yakunin described in his notes.

His teammate, Massimo Candolini, said to the Barents Observer that climbing Kvasspiggen was a highlight of this year’s expedition to Svalbard.

“Among the most remarkable memories I have from that August trip is Kvasspiggen, a stunning triangular mountain located north of Madalenefjord,” Candolini said with enthusiasm.

The Italian citizen has over 20 years of experience as mountaining guide.

“The day we aimed for a climb the weather was rough, so we completed circumnavigation of the peak to study the opportunities to climb the face or the ridges,” Massimo Candolini explained.  

Scouted with the drone 

“We checked with our binoculars, took pictures and scouted carefully with the drone, too. This technique was amazing! It was possible to fly close to the rocks and over the ridges to read the crevices and find the best route to climb,” the teammate elaborated when explaining how the team used the drone.

At the time, Massimo and Andrey had no idea about doing anything illegal by operating a light drone to get a clear view of the mountain face and summit.

“It was a beautiful, warm August day on Spitsbergen. Andrey and I were burdened with ropes, slings, carabiners and our other equipment. We climbed together as a true team, not simply as a mountain guide and a client. We shared the decisions and the difficulties, and we summitted together under a blue sky. It was unforgettable,” Massimo Candoline today said to the Barents Observer.

Captain on Andrey’s sailing yacht Firebird, Andy Liss, elaborated:

“Andrey loves coming here to sail, ski, hike, climb, and enjoy the scenery and wildlife. As Andrey sees it, there is nowhere quite like Svalbard.”

Among the other places Andrey Yakunin and his fellow crew visited while sailing the Svalbard waters were the Soviet mining ghost town of Pyramiden, the main Norwegian settlement Longyearbyen, and Hornsund in the very south of the Spitsbergen island.

The crew of the yacht has shared the itinerary of destinations with the Barents Observer. At Svalbard, all visiting vessels are obliged to deliver such a list of any landings and anchorings to the Governor’s office. 


Spectacular Svalbard. The sailing yacht “Firebird” was at Norway’s Arctic archipelago from August 17 to September 3. Photo: Andrey Yakunin

Detained in Hammerfest 

Leaving Longyearbyen on September 3, the sailing yacht set course across the Barents Sea to mainland Norway. 

“After we got back from Svalbard Andrey left Tromsø on 11th of September and came on board in Alta on the 12th of October as we were on our way to sail towards Hammerfest and Sørøya to fish for halibut,” Captain Andy Liss said. 

In Hammerfest, everything turned different than planned. 

“The weather hampered our plans, we were short on fish and so planned to spend the day on a guided history tour, which never happened due to the police’s interest in the boat,” Andy Liss said. 

Andrey Yakunin was detained and has since been in custody.

His arrest made news headlines across Europe and Russia. For the reason he is son of the former president of Russian Railways and Putin associate Vladimir Yakunin.  

Yakunin the elder is sanctioned by the United States following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. 

Anti-war statement 

Andrey, however, has taken a clear stance against the ongoing brutal war in Ukraine. 

“Please don’t draw an equal sign between Russians, the Russian state and the Government of the Russian Federation. There are many Russians strongly opposing the current military action, and I am one of them,” Andrey Yakunin said to the Wall Street Journal in March this year.

His lawyers have appealed the detention, asking for Yakunin’s release from custody.

“Mr Yakunin has admitted to flying drones in Svalbard, but he was traveling on his British passport as a British citizen. There was no information on the Governor’s website about a ban on drone use by foreigners, and consequently our client had no reason to believe that he was banned from this activity. He does not admit criminal guilt”, his Norwegian lawyers said.


Andrey Yakunin has previously visited northern Norway several times with the sailing boat “Firebird”. Here from a skiing expedition near the Lyngen Alps in Troms.







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