Navalny’s penal colony within the Arctic is direct inheritor to Russia’s Gulag | EUROtoday

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Jailed Russian opposition chief Alexei Navalny, at present serving a 19-year jail sentence, has been transferred to a penal colony north of the Arctic Circle. The IK-3 penal colony, positioned in Kharp within the Yamalo-Nenets area about 1,900 km (1200 miles) northeast of Moscow, is taken into account to be one of many hardest prisons in Russia. Penal colonies are descendants of Soviet-era Gulags, the infamous Stalin-era labour camps the place 1000’s of Russians misplaced their lives.

For three weeks his household, allies and attorneys had no information of him. But on December 25, there lastly got here phrase from jailed Kremlin critic Navalny. He resurfaced on social media platform X with a string of sardonic posts to say he had been transferred to a jail north of the Arctic Circle.

Navalny, 47, founding father of the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), has been behind bars since early 2021. In August, a courtroom prolonged his jail sentence to 19 years on extremism costs. He has now been transferred to the IK-3 jail colony of Kharp, within the Yamalo-Nenets area, practically 1,900 kilometres north-east of Moscow.

At the start of December Navalny disappeared from the IK-6 jail colony within the Vladimir area, some 250 kilometres east of Moscow, the place he had spent most of his detention. His disappearance even provoked alarm from the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who posted a message on X earlier than Christmas, saying he was “deeply involved concerning the whereabouts of Aleksey Navalny”.

Read extraRussian opposition chief Navalny goes lacking as Putin seeks re-election

After sending a whole lot of requests to detention centres throughout Russia, Navalny’s allies on Monday stated they’d managed to find him, including that Navalny’s lawyer was in a position to go to him.

In a sequence of sardonic messages revealed on X on Tuesday, Navalny stated he was “fine” and “relieved” that he had arrived at the new jail.

“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,” he stated.

‘Climate as a tool of repression’

But Navalny’s mocking phrases belie the tough actuality of his new jail lodging.

In Kharp, Navalny must content material with temperatures as little as -40°C in winter. His entry to emails and visiting rights can be severely restricted.

“Although Navalny is always provocative and always retains his sense of humour, he has health problems, and will have to grapple with the isolation, even torture that exists in some Russian prisons,” stated Sylvie Bermann, who served as French ambassador to Russia from 2017 to 2019.

“Weather conditions are very harsh, much harsher than in previous colonies,” stated Marc Élie, a researcher specialising within the historical past of the Soviet Union on the Centre for Russian, Caucasian and Central European Studies (CERCEC) in France.

“There’s little gentle for six months of the yr, and in summer season you are attacked by mosquitoes and midges,” he said.

The IK-3 penal colony is one of 700 labour camps currently operating in Russia, where some 266,000 inmates are currently detained – a relatively low figure compared to the near 420,000 prisoners in 2022.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine early last year, Moscow has sent some 100,000 inmates to fight on the frontline.

“In Russia, you have four types of detention: the open-type colony, in which inmates are very free; the general regime, in which the majority of inmates are locked up in barracks; the severe regime, with tighter restrictions, notably on visiting rights; and the exceptional regime, in which Navalny finds himself,” Élie said, adding that “this last regime is reserved for the most dangerous prisoners, those sentenced to life imprisonment or those whose death sentence has been commuted to life imprisonment”.

Experts on Russia view these penal colonies as a part of the legacy of the Gulag, the focus camp system that deported greater than 20 million folks in the course of the Soviet period. Although the Gulag formally disappeared after Stalin’s dying in 1953, a few of its options reside on in at the moment’s jail system.

Founded in 1961, the IK-3 penal colony – additionally recognized as Polar Wolf – was constructed on the location of the former 501st Gulag.

“The jail system retained plenty of options courting again to the Stalinist period, notably the concept of [using] the local weather as a software of repression,” said University of Strasbourg lecturer Emilia Koustova.

“These are additionally very remoted locations. For three weeks, nobody knew the place Navalny was. The use of arbitrary [detention]which has been in place because the Stalinist period, is aimed at severing the ties between prisoners and their family members. This severing of ties turns into a way of repression and terror, or blackmail,” said Koustova.

Before his transfer to IK-3, Navalny was subjected to multiple periods of solitary confinement.

Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said last October that he spent a total of “236 days” in a small isolation cell.

Putin’s punishment

Considered by Putin as his predominant political foe, Navalny continues to pay the worth for his relentless criticisms of the Kremlin’s despotic regime.

Before his arrest in January 2021Navalny was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent in August 2020, requiring emergency hospitalisation and prolonged rehabilitation in Germany.

Putin denied any involvement within the operation, stating at a information convention that If Russian safety providers had needed to poison Navalny, “they would have finished the job”.

“Putin clearly has a very particular attitude towards Navalny, he never mentions his name. There’s a desire to disregard him while pursuing him relentlessly. His transfer to a colony characterised by a particularly harsh regime is representative of this,” stated Koustova, who can be on the board of the human rights NGO Mémorial France.

Navalny’s switch additionally comes three months earlier than Russia’s subsequent presidential election, during which Putin is working.

“Alexei Navalny will no longer be able to get his political message across on this issue,” Koustova stated.

Putin’s bid for an additional six-year time period in workplace, authorised by the 2020 constitutional referendum, would seem like a mere formality within the absence of opposition.

The final opponents who tried to unseat Russia’s strongman comparable to Andrei Pivovarov, ex-director of the Open Russia motion, and 38-year-old opposition determine Ilya Yashin, have been killed or imprisoned.

Read extraLast remaining voices of the Russian opposition are being silenced amid conflict in Ukraine

According to Mémorial France, whose central physique was dissolved by the Russian Supreme Court in September 2021, there are at present greater than 500 political prisoners in Russia as of 2022.

Last Saturday, the Russian Electoral Commission banned former TV journalist Ekaterina Duntsova, 40, from standing within the upcoming election, citing 100 “mistakes” on her software type.

“In truth, there is no credible opposition, not to mention the fact that many people of her (Duntsova) generation are very much in favour of Vladimir Putin’s re-election. He has every chance of being re-elected with a fairly high turnout,” Bermann stated

The Russian presidential election is scheduled for March 17, 2024.

This article has been translated from the unique in French.