Russian opposition leader says he has seen his lawyer after 20 days travelling to penal colony above the Arctic Circle.
Jailed Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny has confirmed he is being held in a remote Arctic prison and has seen his lawyer after his spokespeople said they had lost touch with him for more than two weeks.
Navalny on Tuesday said he was in good spirits after a “pretty exhausting” 20-day transfer from a prison in the Vladimir region, in a post on X, his account routinely updated via his allies.
“I now live above the Arctic Circle. In the village of Kharp on Yamal. The nearest town has the beautiful name of Labytnangi,” he wrote, after announcing: “I am your new Santa Claus” and noting that he had grown a beard during the “20 days of my transportation”.
His spokesperson, Kira Yarmysh, on Monday said Navalny had been tracked down and was in the IK-3 penal colony in Kharp in the Yamal-Nenets region, about 1,900km (1,200 miles) northeast of Moscow.
The Kremlin critic’s whereabouts had not been known since December 6, triggering concern from his allies, rights groups and Western governments.
“The 20 days of my transportation were pretty exhausting, but I’m still in a good mood,” Navalny said.
“They brought me here on Saturday night. And I was transported with such precaution and on such a strange route (Vladimir – Moscow – Chelyabinsk – Ekaterinburg – Kirov – Vorkuta – Kharp) that I didn’t expect anyone to find me here before mid-January.
“That’s why I was very surprised when the cell door was opened yesterday with the words: ‘A lawyer is here to see you.’”
1/9 I am your new Santa Claus.
Well, I now have a sheepskin coat, an ushanka hat (a fur hat with ear-covering flaps), and soon I will get valenki (a traditional Russian winter footwear). I have grown a beard for the 20 days of my transportation.
— Alexey Navalny (@navalny) December 26, 2023
Addressing his supporters, Navalny thanked them for being concerned about his wellbeing, adding: “Don’t worry about me. I’m fine. I’m totally relieved that I’ve finally made it.”
While his whereabouts were unknown, 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.
Navalny’s lawyers and supporters had been preparing for his expected transfer to a “special regime” colony, the harshest grade in Russia’s prison system.
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) over the next week.
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.
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.
“Since I’m Santa Claus, you’re probably wondering about the presents,” Navalny said on X. “But I am a special-regime Santa Claus, so only those who have behaved very badly get presents.”