MOSCOW – Supporters of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny said Monday that they had lost contact with him and that they have been unable to ascertain his whereabouts for almost a week.
Navalny, who has been convicted on an array of charges widely viewed as political retribution and carrying combined sentences totaling 30 years, was no longer in the prison colony IK-6, in the Vladimir region, about 140 miles east of Moscow where he had been held in recent months, his spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, posted Monday on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Following his conviction last summer on extremism charges, Navalny was due to be transferred to a “special security” penal colony, a facility with the most severe restrictions in the Russian prison system, but officials from Russia’s penitentiary service had not informed Navalny’s lawyers or family of his new location.
The White House, which has called repeatedly for Navalny’s release, said it was “deeply concerned” by the reports of his disappearance.
“He should never have been jailed in the first place, and we’re going to work with our embassy in Moscow to see how much more we can find out,” John Kirby, the spokesman for the National Security Council, told reporters aboard Air Force One.
In recent days, Navalny’s lawyers had visited IK-6 as well as the nearby more restrictive colony, IK-7, where he was due to be transferred, but without success, Yarmysh said.
“On Friday and throughout today, neither IK-6 nor IK-7 responded to them,” Yarmysh posted, adding that Navalny had been missing for six days. “It remains unclear where Alexei is.”
Navalny had been due to appear in court via a video link on Monday, but failed to do so. Prison authorities told Navalny’s team there were electrical issues in the prison.
Writing on X, formerly known as Twitter, Yarmysh said Navalny had recently been in poor health, heightening concerns about his whereabouts.
“The fact that we cannot find Alexei is especially alarming because last week he became ill in his cell: he became dizzy and laid down on the floor,” she wrote. “The colony staff immediately came running, lowered the bed, laid Alexey down and put (him) on an IV.”
Navalny’s disappearance follows Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement last week that he intends to run for reelection in March.
Navalny, who survived a poisoning attempt with a chemical weapon in August 2020, is Putin’s most determined adversary and had worked with supporters to develop a system called “smart voting” in which Russian citizens were urged to vote for any candidates other than those loyal to Putin. Navalny’s political operation has been largely dismantled and most of his team now lives in exile.
Navalny was arrested in January 2021 after returning to Moscow from Germany where he was treated following the poisoning attack. For years, Navalny organized massive anti-Kremlin protests and published multiple investigations into government corruption, including Putin’s own personal wealth.
From prison, Navalny has also spoken out forcefully against Putin’s war in Ukraine, calling for the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops and for compensation to be paid using Russia’s oil and gas revenue. He has also urged curbing the powers of the Russian president in favor of stronger parliamentary system.