Kremlin foe Alexey Navalny located in Arctic jail weeks after contact lost

The Russian opposition leader has been tracked down to a prison above the Arctic Circle, one of the harshest in Russia.

Alexey Navalny
Navalny seen on a screen via video link from the IK-2 penal colony in Pokrov, Russia, in May last year [File: Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters]

Jailed Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny has been tracked down to a prison north of the Arctic Circle, his spokeswoman says after supporters lost touch with him for more than two weeks.

Kira Yarmysh on Monday said Navalny is in the IK-3 penal colony in Kharp in the Yamal-Nenets region, about 1,900km (1,200 miles) northeast of Moscow.

Navalny’s lawyer managed to see him on Monday, Yarmysh said, adding: “Alexey is alright.”

The Kremlin critic’s whereabouts had not been known since December 6, triggering concern from his allies, rights groups and Western governments.

There was speculation that he was undergoing a prison transfer, which can take weeks in Russia because prisoners are slowly moved by rail between far-flung facilities.

They had been preparing for his expected transfer to a “special regime” colony, the harshest grade in Russia’s prison system.

The district of Kharp is home to about 5,000 people and is located about 60km (40 miles) above the Arctic Circle.

His new home, known as the “Polar Wolf” colony, is considered one of the toughest prisons in Russia. Its inmates are convicted of grave crimes. Winters are harsh there with temperatures due to drop to about minus 28 degrees Celsius (minus 18 degrees Fahrenheit) there over the next week.

“It is almost impossible to get to this colony. It is almost impossible to even send letters there. This is the highest possible level of isolation from the world,” Navalny’s chief strategist, Leonid Volkov, said on X, formerly Twitter.

Navalny has been behind bars 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 corruption and organised major anti-Kremlin protests. He has since received three prison terms and spent months in isolation in Penal Colony Number 6 for alleged minor infractions.

Russian authorities view Navalny and his supporters as “extremists” with links to the CIA, the United States intelligence agency, and say they are seeking to destabilise Russia.

A court extended Navalny’s sentence to 19 years on extremism charges and ruled that he be moved to a more secure, harsher prison.

He has rejected all charges against him as politically motivated.

Navalny’s supporters believe he was deliberately being hidden after President Vladimir Putin announced he is seeking re-election in March, a vote in which he is expected to easily secure a fifth term.

Moscow has for years sidelined opposition figures from elections and political life, a clampdown that has ramped up since the Kremlin ordered Russian troops to invade Ukraine in 2022.

Source: News Agencies