MOSCOW — Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny issued a sardonic statement Tuesday about his transfer to an Arctic penal colony nicknamed the “Polar Wolf,” his first appearance since his associates lost contact with him there three weeks ago.
Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s greatest and most persistent domestic enemy, is serving a 19-year prison sentence for extremism. He had been imprisoned in central Russia’s Vladimir region, about 230 kilometers east of Moscow, but his supporters said he was untraceable as of December 6.
They said Monday that he had been located in a penal colony infamous for harsh living conditions in the Yamalo-Nenets region, about 1,900 kilometers (1,200 miles) northeast of Moscow.
“I am your new Santa Claus,” Navalny said in a tweet, referring to his location above the Arctic Circle in the prison in the city of Kharp.
The region is known for its long and harsh winters. The town is about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Vorkuta, whose coal mines were among the harshest in the Soviet Gulag prison camp system.
Navalny, known for his highly humorous comments, said he was in good spirits after being transported to the new prison but suggested the northern winter darkness was discouraging: “I’m not saying ‘Ho-ho- ho’, but I say “Oh-oh-oh” when I look out the window, where I can see the night, then the evening, then the night again.
Prisoner transfers to Russia often result in loss of contact with detainees for weeks. Navalny’s supporters say the transfer was arranged to keep Navalny out of sight as Putin announced he would seek another presidential term in March elections.
Navalny has been behind bars in Russia since January 2021, when he returned to Moscow after recovering in Germany from nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. Before his arrest, he had campaigned against official corruption and organized major anti-Kremlin protests.
He has since been sentenced to three prison terms and spent months in solitary confinement in Penal Colony No. 6 for alleged minor offenses. He has rejected all accusations against him, calling them politically motivated.
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