Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny released a sardonic statement on Tuesday regarding his transfer to an Arctic prison colony known as the “Polar Wolf,” marking his first appearance since associates lost contact with him three weeks ago. Navalny, a prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin, is currently serving a 19-year sentence on an extremism conviction. Initially held in central Russia’s Vladimir region, Navalny’s location became unknown from December 6, but on Monday, supporters reported that he had been traced to a prison colony in the Yamalo-Nenets region, known for its harsh conditions.
In a tweet, Navalny humorously referred to himself as the new Santa Claus and mentioned his location above the Arctic Circle in the Kharp prison. The region is notorious for its long and severe winters, and the town of Kharp is located about 100 kilometers from Vorkuta, known for its harsh coal mines during the Soviet Gulag prison-camp era.
Despite the challenging circumstances, Navalny maintained a good mood and made light of the northern winter darkness. He remarked, “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 lost contact with inmates for weeks. Navalny’s supporters argue that the transfer was orchestrated to keep him out of sight, particularly amid Putin’s announcement of running for another term as president in the upcoming March election. Navalny has been in Russian custody since January 2021, following his return from Germany, where he recovered from nerve agent poisoning that he attributed to the Kremlin. A staunch critic of official corruption, Navalny has faced multiple prison terms and isolation in Penal Colony No. 6, consistently maintaining that the charges against him are politically motivated.