Update: Alexey Navalny has beenc, his spokeswoman said on Dec. 25.
Allies sayis no longer in the penal colony in which he had been imprisoned since last year, and they cannot locate him.
"Today, as on Friday, the lawyers tried to get to IK-6 and IK-7 — two colonies in the Vladimir region where Alexey [Navalny] might be," his spokesperson, Kira Yarmysh, said Monday on social media. "They have just been informed simultaneously in both colonies that he is not there. We still don't know where Alexey is."
Navalny's aides had been preparing for him to be transferred to a harsher penal colony after he was sentenced to an additional 19 years on top of the over 11 he was serving, the Reuters news agency reported.
Navalny's disappearance comes at the beginning of the campaign period for the next Russian presidential elections, scheduled for March 17 next year. Russian President Vlaminirfor another 6-year term last Friday.
"The fact that this is happening right now (although Navalny should have been transferred to another colony two months ago) — now that 'elections' have been announced and Navalny's team has launched the 'Russia without Putin' campaign — is 0% accidental and 100% directly political manual control from the Kremlin," Leonid Volkov, Navalny's chief of staff, said on social media.
"It is no secret to Putin who his main opponent is in these 'elections.' And he wants to make sure that Navalny's voice is not heard. This means that everyone should become Navalny's voice," Volkov said.
There was no immediate comment from the Kremlin or Russia's prison authority on Navalny's whereabouts.
Putin announced his decision to run for re-election after a Kremlin award ceremony, where war veterans and others reportedly pleaded with him to seek another term.
"I won't hide it from you — I had various thoughts about it over time, but now, you're right, it's necessary to make a decision," Putin said in a video released by the Kremlin after the event. "I will run for president of the Russian Federation."
About 80% of the Russian people approve of Putin's performance as president, according to the independent pollster Levada Center. That support might come from the heart, or it might reflect submission to a leader whose crackdown on any opposition has made even relatively mild criticism perilous.
Navalny, who emerged as the most outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin's government before he was imprisoned in 2021, was already serving a nine-year sentence in a high-security prison about 150 miles east of Moscow for parole violations, fraud, and contempt of court when he was convicted of promoting "extremism" and had his sentence extended by 19 years in August.
Navalny and many outside observers have always considered the charges against him to be politically motivated retaliation for his criticism of Putin and the Kremlin's policies, both foreign and domestic, and the U.S. has condemned the various verdicts against him.
"This is an unjust conclusion to an unjust trial," U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement after the most recent sentencing in August. "By conducting this latest trial in secret and limiting his lawyers' access to purported evidence, Russian authorities illustrated yet again both the baselessness of their case and the lack of due process afforded to those who dare to criticize the regime."
Navalny was arrested in January 2021 immediately upon his return from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin — a claim Russian officials have always denied.
Shortly after his arrest, a court sentenced him to two-and-a-half years in prison for violating the parole conditions of a 2014 suspended sentence in a fraud case. From that point on, the number of, with allies saying the Kremlin's goal has always been to keep him locked up for as long as possible.
With Navalny behind bars, Russian authorities have also launched a sweeping crackdown on his associates and supporters. Many have been forced to flee the country, while others have been imprisoned.
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