Alexei Navalny, one of the most outspoken critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was located at an Arctic prison after a more than two-week disappearance that had worried his supporters.
In a series of posts on X, Navalny said he was taken on a “strange route” to the IK-3 penal colony, which is nicknamed “Polar Wolf” and located above the Arctic Circle in the town of Kharp.
The opposition leader, who was poisoned by a nerve agent in 2020, returned to Russia in 2021 and was later jailed on extremism charges. He recently had 19 years added to his 11 ½-year sentence.
Navalny retains ‘indomitable’ humor
Navalny never wanted to be associated with the “dissident” label, according to an excerpt of a biography published in Politico this year. He had dreams of being a leading Russian politician, before he made the miscalculation of returning to the country. He’s now at risk of losing his life, though the biography notes “his resilience and his cutting humor.” Even in his latest posts, he joked that he is “your new Santa Claus” because he was wearing a sheepskin coat and fur hat and had grown a beard during his 20-day journey to the new penal colony. “There is something quite indomitable about [Navalny’s] capacity to retain a sense of humour in such terrible conditions,” Russia expert Mark Galeotti said.
Rough conditions at Arctic penal colony
Russia is known for taking prisoners on grueling train journeys to transfer them from one prison to another, often on Soviet-era trains. The IK-3 prison that Navalny was taken to is a maximum-security facility considered one of Russia’s most remote penal colonies, according to The Moscow Times. It’s known for housing dangerous repeat offenders and is “almost impossible to escape from,” because it’s surrounded by mountains and hundreds of kilometers of tundra, one of Navalny’s former associates said. He was “sent so far precisely in order to ensure this maximum possible physical isolation,” one human rights defender said.
Presidential election just months away
Navalny’s supporters think the transfer’s intention was to isolate him ahead of the Russian presidential election in March. Earlier this month, he called for Russians to go to the polls and “vote against Vladimir Putin” by voting for “any other candidate.” Navalny acknowledged on social media that “a parody of the election process awaits us.” It’s already a near-certainty that Putin will win reelection, which could keep him in power until at least 2030.