Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

In this file photo, Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny is seen on a screen via video link during a court hearing in April.YULIA MOROZOVA/Reuters

Russian opposition leader Alexey 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.

Mr. 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 kilometres 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 kilometres northeast of Moscow.

“I am your new Santa Claus,” Mr. 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 kilometres from Vorkuta, whose coal mines were among the harshest of the Soviet Gulag prison-camp system.

Mr. 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. Mr. Navalny’s supporters contend the transfer was arranged to keep Mr. Navalny out of sight amid Mr. Putin’s announcement that he will run for another term as president in the March election.

Mr. 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.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe