MOSCOW (AP) — Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Tuesday released a sardonic statement about his transfer to a Arctic prison colony nicknamed the “Polar Wolf,” his first appearance since associates lost contact with him three weeks ago.
Navalny, the most prominent and persistent domestic foe of President Vladimir Putin, is serving a 19-year sentence on an extremism conviction. He had been incarcerated in central Russia’s Vladimir region, about 230 kilometers (140 miles) east of Moscow, but supporters said he couldn’t be found beginning on Dec. 6.
They said Monday that he had been traced to a prison colony infamous for severe 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 town of Kharp.
The region is notorious for long and severe winters. The town is about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Vorkuta, whose coal mines were among the harshest of the Soviet Gulag prison-camp system.
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. Navalny’s supporters contend the transfer was arranged to keep Navalny out of sight amid Putin’s announcement that he will run for another term as president in the March election.
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.