Is Russia’s president Putin afraid of Alexei Navalny? (Part 2)

Foreign Policy Brief #117 | By: Yelena Korshunov | January 31, 2024
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“I will give up neither my ideas nor my homeland.”


Alexei Navalny, a leading opponent to Russia’s president, wrote a post three years after his return to Russia from Germany, where he was treated after being supposedly poisoned by the Russian government. Navalny says that he is regularly asked why he returned to Russia. He writes that the other prisoners ask this question “simply and directly,” while the prison administration asks “carefully, with the recorders turned off.” The imprisoned politician notes that the majority of them “do not believe simple motives” and assume that he had “some kind of cunning plan in which the Kremlin towers are involved.”

In his post Alexei Navalny states that “it happens that now in Russia I have to pay by sitting in solitary confinement for my right to have and to not hide my convictions. And I certainly don’t like sitting. But I will give up neither my ideas nor my homeland. My beliefs are not exotic, or sectarian, or radical. On the contrary, everything I believe in is based on science and historical experience. People in power must change. The best way to elect power is fair and free elections. Everyone needs a fair trial. Corruption destroys the state. There should be no censorship. The future lies with these principles.”

On December 6, 2023, connection with the politician was lost. After 19 days, Alexei Navalny was found above the Arctic Circle in correctional colony # 3 “Polar Wolf” in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region. The lack of communication and any information about the prisoner at the transfer to another correctional facility is the norm for the Russian prison system. The destination during the transfer is kept secret not only from lawyers and relatives, but from the convicted person himself. A person might even learn about the situation of being sent to another colony just a couple of hours before departure.

For a prisoner it means a constant state of uncertainty and terrible transportation conditions. Prisoners, as a rule, are transported by rail in so-called “stolypin cars” [named after a 19th century Russia’s minister Stolypin in whose period these wagons were widely implemented]. This is a special carriage that accommodates up to 12 people in one ordinary compartment designed for 4 persons. These carriages have no windows, a prisoner can only go to the bathroom under escort, and hot meals are not provided during the entire time of transit.

The “Polar Wolf” colony where Russia’s president Vladimir Putin transferred his opponent has a very bad reputation. It always functioned as a colony for especially dangerous recidivists, but during Putin’s regime it became a placement for his political opponents and disgraced oligarchs such as Platon Lebedev, a business partner of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s [Russian public and political figure, entrepreneur, publicist, and former oligarch, residing in Europe after his release from Russia’s prison]. This colony is known as one of the most northern, remote, and having harsh conditions.

Russia’s opposing mass media outlet Meduza (now located in Latvia) cites a lawyer who specializes in protecting the rights of convicts. “This is a disgusting colony,” he says. “The conditions for serving a sentence are very difficult, any requests from there are blocked, except, perhaps, for some medical necessities and financial assistance. Navalny will be able to keep in touch with the world only through lawyers.”

The colony is located in the tundra, in an arctic climate. “The conditions there are extremely difficult, since the special regime is actually legalized torture in and of itself,” the lawyer continues. “Last year the prosecutor of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Region identified violations at “Polar Wolf” in the field of labor protection, fire safety, and sanitary standards. That means that everything is so bad with the conditions in the colony that even the prosecutor’s office considered it necessary to intervene, although, as a rule, prosecutorial supervision over places of deprivation of liberty is of a very formal nature.”

This colony has always been famous for the fact that prisoners were sent there for “breaking”. Those who are sitting there today are mostly political prisoners, who “are ready to do anything for a pack of cigarettes, because of the difficulty to serve a sentence there,” – says a representative of a prisoners’ rights foundation Sitting Rus’ [Rus’ is an old name of Russia].

Maximum security colonies such as “Polar Wolf” house recidivists, serial killers, and those who have had their death sentence switched to life imprisonment. However, Russia’s current president stuffs them with his political opponents. To date, Alexei Navalny has been sentenced to 19 years in prison. Most likely, in this colony, he will be completely isolated from the outside world, forgoing any of his previous influence on Russian voters’ minds.

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