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Russian opposition leader Navalny in good spirits despite incarceration in prison

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Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been making light of the harsh conditions he is experiencing in a Siberian penal colony.

Navalny, who has stood as the most significant opposition to President Vladimir Putin in recent years, posted an update on X via his lawyers about the IK-3 penal colony, also known as “Polar Wolf,” in Kharp in northern Russia, which is considered one of the country’s toughest prisons.

He was located at the prison by his lawyers on Christmas Day, nearly three weeks after his team lost contact with him after he failed to appear in court via video link for a hearing, kicking off a desperate search.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny looks at photographers standing in the Babuskinsky District Court in Moscow. Navalny has been making light of the harsh conditions he is experiencing in a Siberian penal colony.

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“I am your new Santa Claus,” Navalny wrote jokingly. “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.”

Russian authorities had previously held Navalny at a facility roughly 145 miles east of Moscow. Polar Wolf is situated above the Arctic Circle in the Yamalo-Nenets district, which is about 1,200 miles northeast of Moscow. It was founded in 1961, according to the Russian prison system, on the site of a former Soviet gulag forced labor camp. 

“Unfortunately, there are no reindeer, but there are huge fluffy, and very beautiful shepherd dogs,” Navalny continued. “And the most important thing: I now live above the Arctic Circle.”

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“The 20 days of my transportation were pretty exhausting, but I’m still in a good mood, as befits a Santa Claus.”

After some joking around, Navalny shared more details about the difficult journey and thanked his followers for their support given they were concerned about his whereabouts.

Alexei Navalny is seen on a TV screen

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is seen on a TV screen, as he appears in a video link provided by the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service in a courtroom on Oct. 18, 2022. Navalny was located at the “Polar Wolf” prison by his lawyers on Christmas Day, nearly three weeks after his team lost contact with him after he failed to appear in court via video link for a hearing, kicking off a desperate search. (AP Photo, File)

“They brought me here on Saturday night. And I was transported with such precaution and on such a strange route… that I didn’t expect anyone to find me here before mid-January.”

He wrote that he saw guards with machine guns and dogs outside in the snow. 

“Anyway, don’t worry about me. I’m fine. I’m awfully glad I finally made it here,” Navalny wrote.

Human rights defender Igor Kalyapin told The Moscow Times that conditions there are terrible.

“It is clear that this is detention in maximum isolation,” Kalyapin told the publication. “I think that Navalny was sent so far precisely in order to ensure this maximum possible physical isolation, so even taking a trip there would be a problem.”

Navalny has been imprisoned since returning to Russia in 2021, when authorities immediately arrested him and later sentenced him to 19 years in prison on extremism charges. His team has repeatedly raised concerns about his treatment following his return.

Navalny has previously organized anti-government demonstrations and has run for office to advocate for reforms against what he claims is corruption in Russia. He was the victim of an alleged assassination attempt in 2020, when he suffered poisoning from a suspected Novichok nerve agent. 

Putin annual press conference

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual news conference in Moscow, Dec. 14, 2023. Navalny has accused Putin of trying to assassinate him. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool)

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He remained in a coma for several weeks while doctors in Germany fought to keep him alive. He accused Putin of being responsible for his poisoning.

Ivan Zhadov, an aide to the opposition leader and head of his anti-corruption foundation, criticized the Russian government’s treatment of Navalny.

“Aleksei’s situation is a clear example of how the system treats political prisoners,” Zhadov wrote in a post on X. 

Fox News Digital’s Peter Aitken and Stephen Sorace, as well as The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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