I am your new Santa Claus, Alexei Navalny jokes from Arctic prison

26 December 2023, 12:14

Demonstrators gather outside the home of Russian ambassador Sergei Netshaev in Berlin while contact was lost with Alexei Navalny
Russia Navalny. Picture: PA

Alexei Navalny, the most prominent and persistent domestic foe of Vladimir Putin, is serving a 19-year sentence on an extremism conviction.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has made his first comments about his transfer to an Arctic prison colony nicknamed the “Polar Wolf”, in his first appearance since associates lost contact with him three weeks ago.

Mr Navalny, the most prominent and persistent domestic foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is serving a 19-year sentence on an extremism conviction.

He had been locked up in central Russia’s Vladimir region, about 230km (140 miles) east of Moscow, but supporters said on December 6 he could not be located and had struggled for the next 20 days to find out where he was being held.

They said on Monday he had been traced to a prison colony infamous for severe conditions in the Yamalo-Nenets region, about 1,900km (1,200 miles) north-east of Moscow.

“I am your new Santa Claus,” Mr Navalny said in a tweet, referring to his location above the Arctic Circle in the prison in the town of Kharp.

The region is notorious for long and severe winters. The town is about 100km (60 miles) from Vorkuta, whose coal mines were among the harshest of the Soviet Gulag prison-camp system.

Mr Navalny, who is noted for sharply humorous comments, said he was in a good mood after being transported to the new prison, but suggested the northern winter darkness is discouraging: “I don’t say ‘Ho-ho-ho,’ but I do say ‘Oh-oh-oh’ when I look out of the window, where I can see night, then the evening, and then the night again.”

Prisoner transfers in Russia often result in contact with inmates being lost for weeks.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is seen on a TV screen, as he appears in a video link in a Moscow court in May
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is seen on a TV screen, as he appears in a video link in a Moscow court in May (Moscow City Court Press Service via AP)

Mr Navalny’s supporters contend the transfer was arranged to keep him out of sight amid Mr Putin’s announcement that he will run for another term as president in the March election.

Mr Navalny has been behind bars in Russia since January 2021, when he returned to Moscow after recuperating in Germany from nerve agent poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin.

Before his arrest, he campaigned against official corruption and organized major anti-Kremlin protests.

He has since received three prison terms and spent months in isolation in Penal Colony No 6 for alleged minor infractions.

He has rejected all charges against him as politically motivated.

By Press Association

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