russian opposition leader navalny found in an arctic prison

Supporters of the Russian opposition leader lost contact with him 20 days ago, fueling concern about his health and whereabouts.

The Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny has been moved to a remote Arctic prison and “is doing well,” his spokeswoman said on Monday, ending a 20-day mystery over his whereabouts that had many supporters fearing the worst.

“We have found Aleksei,” the spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, said on social media. “His lawyer saw him today.”

Ms. Yarmysh’s announcement marked the end of a frantic search through Russia’s vast prison system for Mr. Navalny, who disappeared on Dec. 5. Mr. Navalny’s exiled allies said that they had found him in the remote penal colony in the Arctic after sending more than 600 requests to prisons and other government agencies.

Ivan Zhdanov, director of Mr. Navalny’s anticorruption foundation, said that Mr. Navalny’s lawyers had looked through every pretrial detention center.

“From the beginning, it was clear that the government wanted to isolate Aleksei, especially ahead of the election,” Mr. Zhdanov said, referring to the coming presidential race in Russia that President Vladimir V. Putin is widely expected to win.

There has been no immediate response from the Kremlin to Mr. Navalny’s transfer. Throughout his absence from the public eye, the Russian government had been dismissive about his whereabouts. Dmitri S. Peskov, Mr. Putin’s spokesman, said on Dec. 14 that the Kremlin had “neither the possibility, nor rights or desire to trace the fate of convicts,” referring to Mr. Navalny.

Over the last decade, Mr. Navalny has been the only Russian opposition politician who posed a serious challenge to Mr. Putin’s monopoly over the country’s political landscape. He built a robust political organization with offices across the country and drew thousands to his anti-Kremlin rallies. Over the last few years, the Russian government went to great lengths to dismantle the infrastructure he had created. Many of his allies had to flee Russia or were arrested.

Mr. Navalny’s new penal colony, officially known as IK-3 Polar Wolf, is in the settlement of Kharp and is among the harshest and remotest prisons in Russia. Inmates endure long, dark, cold winters as well as clouds of mosquitoes in the summer. The penal colony is a successor to a Gulag labor camp, established there for prison workers building a railway across the Russian Arctic, ordered by Stalin, but never finished in full.

Mr. Navalny’s previous prison, in the town of Melekhovo, was only about 160 miles east of Moscow, meaning that his lawyers could drive there in a manner of hours. In contrast, the new prison is some 1,200 miles from the capital. A train to Kharp, called the Polar Arrow, departs Moscow every second day and takes 44 hours to reach the town.

“Aleksei’s situation is a clear example of how the system treats political prisoners, trying to isolate and suppress them,” Mr. Zhdanov said on social media.

Ivan Vostrikov, former head of Mr. Navalny’s office in the town of Tyumen, in Siberia, said he had been to Kharp several times. He described the town as “a very beautiful place with a very tough winter.”

“It is practically impossible to run away from it — on the one side there is tundra,” he said in a post on Telegram, a social messaging app. “On the other, there are rocky mountains of Polar Urals,” he added. “That’s why they put the worst criminals and serial killers there.”

Mr. Navalny’s allies had been expecting his transfer to one of Russia’s stricter prisons — known as “special regime” prison colonies — since September, when he lost an appeal against the 19-year sentence he is serving.

Detainees being transferred to remote prisons in Russia can spend weeks being shuttled between trains in special rail cars and have little or no access to the outside world. But Mr. Navalny’s disappearance made headlines almost immediately because of his high-profile status in the Russian political system.

Mr. Navalny has been in custody in Russia since his detention in January 2021 at a Moscow airport, where he had arrived after spending months in Germany recovering from poisoning by a nerve agent. Mr. Navalny and Western governments accused the Kremlin of the poisoning, which Russian officials denied.

Since then, the Russian authorities have brought forth a multitude of new charges against Mr. Navalny. According to Ms. Yarmysh, he is currently a defendant in 14 criminal cases and faces potential sentences of up to 35 years in prison.

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