Navalny vanishes in Russia’s prison system, Zelensky arrives in Washington

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London: Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny has been removed from the penal colony where he had been imprisoned since the middle of last year and his current whereabouts are unknown, his allies said.

Navalny aides have been preparing for his expected transfer to a “special regime” colony, the harshest grade in Russia’s prison system, after he was sentenced in August to an additional 19 years in prison on top of 11½ years he was already serving.

Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny sends a heart message to his wife Yulia while in a Russian court in early 2021.Credit: Moscow City Court

The process of moving prisoners by rail across Russia’s vast territory can take weeks, with lawyers and family unable to obtain information about their location and wellbeing until they reach their destination. It was unclear if Navalny was already in transit to a new prison.

Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said staff at the IK-6 facility in Melekhovo, 235 kilometres east of Moscow, had told his lawyer waiting outside that the opposition leader was no longer among its inmates.

“We don’t know where he is right now. He can be in any colony of special regime and there are about around 30 of them in Russia, all over Russia,” she said. “We will try to go to every colony there is and look for him”.

Navalny’s disappearance comes at the start of the campaign period for a presidential election in which Vladimir Putin confirmed last week that he would stand for another six-year term.

Navalny’s team is gearing up to start an “anti-Putin” campaign, and Navalny’s disappearance will not stop the effort, Yarmysh said.

“Right now he is completely alone and he is literally in the hands of people who once tried to kill him. We don’t know what they will do. This is why it is so important to talk about him and to try to find him as soon as possible,” she said. “It is about his life, and his health, and about his security”.

The Kremlin and the Russian prison service did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Putin and his spokesman make a point of never referring to Navalny by name in an attempt to portray him as politically irrelevant. They say he is treated like any other prisoner.

The 47-year-old is by far the best known figure in Russia’s opposition. For years, he has branded Putin and the ruling elite a gang of “crooks and thieves”, lampooning them in slick videos watched millions of times on YouTube.

He earned admiration around the world for voluntarily returning to Russia in 2021 from Germany, where he underwent treatment for what Western laboratory tests showed was an attempt to poison him with a nerve agent in Siberia. He was immediately arrested on arrival.

Navalny says the many charges against him – from fraud and contempt of court to a range of “extremist” activities – were all trumped up to silence his attacks on Putin.

Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky is in Washington to try and convince Congress to renew funding his war effort.Credit: AP

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky kicked off a quick visit to Washington with a warning at a defence university that Russia may be fighting in Ukraine but its “real target is freedom” in America and around the world. He also issued a personal plea for Congress to break its deadlock and approve continued support for Ukraine.

His time in Washington, which will include meetings on Wednesday (AEDT) at the White House and with Congress, is part of a last-minute push by the Biden administration to convince lawmakers to pass a supplemental funding bill, as officials warn that the money for Ukraine is running out.

US President Joe Biden has asked Congress for $US61.4 billion ($93.5 billion) for wartime funding for Ukraine as part of a $110 billion package that also includes money for Israel and other national security priorities.

But the request is caught up in a debate over US immigration policy and border security. The US has already provided Ukraine $111 billion for its fight against Russia’s 2022 invasion.

“If there’s anyone inspired by unresolved issues on Capitol Hill, it’s just [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and his sick clique,” Zelensky told an audience of military leaders and students at the National Defence University.

“Ukrainians haven’t given up and won’t give up. We know what to do. And you can count on Ukraine. And we hope just as much to be able to count on you.”

Reuters, AP

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