Alexei Navalny: The truth teller Putin is trying to kill

One hundred and fifty miles east of Moscow in the high-security IK-6 penal colony, a brutal battle of wills is playing out — between a merciless tyrant and the bravest of men who refuses to be cowed by him.

For it is here that Vladimir has set out to break his foe, the Russian political prisoner he most fears.

He is 46-year-old — lawyer, opposition leader and the man who has done more than any to document the dictator’s shocking corruption.

IK-6 is notorious, even by Russian standards.Violence and rape among the prisoners are commonplace. The jailers are well-known for their cruelty. And Navalny is entirely at their mercy.

He is continually being sentenced to ten-day periods of solitary confinement for imagined infractions.

Alexei Navalny is the Kremlin critic who survived a poison attack and is now rotting in a brutal penal colony 

The man Putin fears: Opposition leader Alexei Navalny, now an inmate of a Russian penal colony (top).And, inset, a selfie with his wife Yulia in hospital in Berlin — where he was being treated for nerve-agent poisoning

On one occasion he was punished for washing his hands six minutes ahead of schedule. On another for undoing the top button of his shirt.

And as soon as he is released from one period of solitary, he is punished with another.

It must be all but impossible for him to keep track of time.His sentence of 11 and a half years — on trumped-up charges of fraud and violating parole — stretches out endlessly ahead of him. The days are without feature. He is allowed one book, one mug and one metal stool fixed to the floor of his ‘punishment cell’.

For 30 minutes each day he is allowed a pen and piece of paper but no more.The bed is folded during the day so that he cannot lie down.

He has said the authorities have put a mentally disturbed patient — who shouts and screams incessantly — in the adjoining cell in an attempt to deprive him of sleep.

The aim is clear: to force him to submit to Putin’s twisted will.

Two weeks ago, Navalny emerged from his 11th separate period of incarceration in a hellish 10ft by 7ft ‘concrete kennel’ with only a hole in the ground for a toilet.

He had lost more than a stone in weight and was suffering from a severe lung infection he had caught in prison — though it would be more correct to say that he was deliberately infected with it.

His vindictive jailers had previously put a tramp with a contagious respiratory condition in the same cell as him and, naturally, when Navalny became sick they neglected to treat him.

Those close to the charismatic dissident had hoped he would have an opportunity to spend a few weeks in the standard dormitory accommodation within the penal colony, offering respite of a sort.

But instead, Navalny chose this very moment to display his characteristic fearlessness, at great personal cost.

Through his lawyers, he sanctioned the release of information about his corrupt jailers themselves, the people who have made his life an inhuman misery since he arrived at IK-6 last summer.

The dossier was put together by Navalny’s now-exiled Anti-Corruption Foundation team who, over the years, have investigated and exposed, with breathtaking clarity, the debasement of Putin’s rule.

They shone a light on a dozen ‘sadist’ prison officers in a facility long known for the savage abuse of its inmates — in an attempt to make clear to them that, when the day of reckoning comes after Putin’s fall, they will be held responsible for their part in supporting his criminal regime.

He refuses to stop exposing the regime’s sickening cruelty and corruption — no matter the horrors his sadistic guards inflict…

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is shown on a monitor screen via video link from the penal colony No.2 (IK-2) in Pokrov in Vladimir region, during a hearing of an appeal against Lefortovsky court sentence at the Moscow city court in Moscow, Russia, May, 24, 2022

The dossier homed in on the man tasked with breaking Navalny, the jail’s governor, Colonel Dmitry Nozhkin. It named Nozhkin’s glamorous mistress, and revealed his penchant, along with that of his wife, for threesomes, as indicated by their membership of a specialist website.

It noted the anomaly that allowed another cruel senior warder, Lt Col Yury Fomin, to own a BMW X5 costing four times his declared salary.

Meanhwhile, Lt Mikhail Neimovich, 25, was identified as the person entrusted with scrupulously writing reports on Navalny and his torture in jail.

The lieutenant’s painstaking notes, detailing how Navalny has been punished for failing to address warders the proper way, and much more, are said to land regularly on Putin’s desk.

The dossier revealed, too, how Nozhkin receives orders from Moscow and holds lengthy meetings in his grim jail on ‘making life worse for Putin’s main enemy’, according to Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation.

Unsurprisingly, following the release of this information by Navalny’s team, there was a lightning response.

Navalny was told he would be placed in a new harsh solitary confinement cell, with all visits by his economist wife Yulia, 46, and his family, banned.His legal team saw this as the latest episode in a blatant and sinister strategy to ‘destroy’ Navalny’s health, ‘killing him slowly’.

As he put it himself: ‘The main torment of imprisonment is, of course, the inability to see the faces of your family, to talk to your loved ones.

‘I haven’t had any visits for eight months and [now] I was told that I would be transferred to a “cell-type facility” for the maximum possible term of six months.

‘No visits are allowed there.This means more than a year without a visit. Even maniacs and serial killers serving life sentences have the right to receive a visit, but I do not.’

Not only are such criminals allowed visits, but Russia’s maniacs and serial killers have even been eligible for release — if they are willing to fight in Ukraine, and if they survive six months, Putin wipes their convictions clean.

There are murderers freely walking Russian streets because they were willing to kill in Ukraine also.There will be many more soon. Yet hell will freeze over before Putin liberates Navalny, a man he is so scared of that he cannot even publicly utter his name.

There is a saying in Russia: the truth is good, but happiness is better. As long as they are able to enjoy happiness and prosperity, the Russian people have been willing to ignore or even believe Putin’s lies.Many are in favour of the war.

Navalny, however, has chosen the truth — and the misery that results from telling it.

This week he published a 15-point statement calling for an end to the war, prosecutions against war criminals, reparations for the Ukrainians, and democracy in Russia.

Time and again he has spoken out, heedless of the consequences.A revelation that caused particular anger in the Kremlin was the 2021 documentary Putin’s Palace: The History Of The World’s Largest Bribe, which Navalny scripted and presented.

It revealed the secret construction of a £1 billion residence for the Russian president by the Black Sea.

Perched on a clifftop estate 39 times the size of Monaco, this gaudy Versailles has its own Orthodox church, as well as boasting a pole-dancing hookah boudoir, a casino, a vineyard, and a ‘16-storey underground complex’, likened to a Bond villain’s lair.

Many of the oligarchs who got rich in the Putin years contributed to it, as if paying protection money to a godfather.Putin, it has often been said, runs a mafia state — one with hypersonic nuclear missiles.

Naturally, Putin denied the place had anything to do with him, instead asserting it belonged to his billionaire consigliere Arkady Rotenberg, 71, who struggled to keep a straight face while insisting it was his.

The president is notoriously secretive about his private life, which is why Navalny’s repeated efforts to inform the Russian public about it have so enraged him.

Eleven months ago, Navalny’s team launched a new Exocet, revealing details of the dictator’s carefully concealed ‘royal yacht’, the 460ft Scheherazade, crewed by agents of the FSO and FSB, two Russian secret services, except for the figurehead British captain.

Scheherazade has been used by Putin’s sanctioned ‘mistress’, the former gymnast Alina Kabaeva, with whom it is said he has a secret family about which Russians are forbidden to know.

Moment Putin breaks his own law by using banned word ‘war’

Happily for the purposes of domestic harmony, Putin’s alleged former mistress Svetlana Krivonogikh, 47, who owns a striptease club in St Petersburg and was this month sanctioned by Britain, has her own yacht.

She also boasts a property and banking fortune, making the cleaner-turned-multimillionairess one of Russia’s richest women.

Other investigations from Navalny’s team have eviscerated many of Putin’s cronies.

A new one this month exposed how the as-yet unsanctioned family of one of his leading missile engine designers, betmatik Mkrtich Okroyan — whose lethal Kh-22s have unleashed mayhem and death upon civilians including children in Ukraine — owns a secret luxury mansion in Virginia Water, Surrey.

It was Navalny’s uncompromising commitment to tell truth to power that resulted in the August 2020 attempt on his life.

On a plane over Siberia, he began to suffer convulsions induced by poisoning.An FSB federal security service hit squad, which had been tailing him for years, had sprinkled a version of the nerve agent Novichok on his underwear after breaking into his hotel room.

Navalny was allowed, inexplicably, to fly to Germany for lifesaving medical treatment.

In an admirable show of chutzpah, Navalny later personally exposed this FSB assassination bid by posing on the phone as a security official and duping the poisoner into admitting his role.

The secret services operative responsible for the blunder, Konstantin Kudryavtsev, has now vanished, and is feared dead as punishment for his indiscretion.

After recovering from the botched assassination plot, Navalny then made the most extraordinary decision. On January 17, 2021, he flew back to Russia from Berlin. Putin’s officials couldn’t believe their luck.His Pobeda Airlines plane was diverted from Vnukovo to Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow, where he was promptly detained again.

Some see Navalny’s decision to return to Russia as the defining act of a modern-day martyr, a commitment to give his life if necessary to fight Putin’s regime inside the country, not from the comfort of the West.

He can have had no illusions as to the danger after the attempt to murder him, nor after the earlier brutal gunning down of another prominent opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, 55, in 2015, just yards from the Kremlin.

Despite this, he has continued to expose jaw-dropping details of corruption involving the Russian president and his ‘crooks and thieves’ circle.He refuses to be silenced, no matter the scale of savagery he faces.

These revelations have all emerged while Navalny is behind bars in the Vladimir region, his every movement monitored by Lt Neimovich.

Yet, effective as this has been in spotlighting Putin’s corruption, it is hard now not to question that decision to fly back from Berlin.

Whatever convinced Navalny — then a free man — to return to what now seems certain and endless custody as long as Putin rules, it is interesting to speculate what might have been had he not boarded flight DP936 and remained in the West.

Naturally, Putin denied the place had anything to do with him, instead asserting it belonged to his billionaire consigliere Arkady Rotenberg, 71, who struggled to keep a straight face while insisting it was his

The separation from his family is particularly hard.Last week, Navalny had a better reason than any to fail to mark Valentine’s Day.

Still, he had planned ahead. In a long message posted to his social media accounts, he told his wife: ‘I haven’t seen you so terribly long, Yulyashka.I talk to you constantly. Like a madman, I sit at breakfast and imagine us all gathering together as a family, I make a joke to tease you, then make your joke at me, then my next joke. I love you. I miss you. Your husband.’

Many will see it as odd that Navalny has not been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his attempts to end tyranny in Russia.

He has now been jailed or held in detention an astonishing 22 separate times since he was handcuffed at a ‘Russia without Putin’ protest in 2011.

And it is very far from certain he will remain alive inside his current jail as the war deepens in Ukraine and earlier constraints on Kremlin behaviour evaporate.

Navalny has been labelled — outrageously — an ‘extremist’ and ‘terrorist’.He has been barred by myriad politically motivated prosecutions and sleights of hand from offering Russians the chance to elect him, which in a genuinely free poll they might well do.

More than any other opposition leader he inspired people onto the streets.Like Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, Navalny is a politician with that rare quality of cut-through.

He has told how the invasion of Ukraine was ‘unleashed by a maniac possessed by some nonsense about geopolitics, history and the structure of the world.

‘He [Putin] is addicted to death, war and lies like a drug — he needs them to maintain power’.

In a call to action, Navalny urged: ‘It is everyone’s duty to make at least some, even the smallest contribution to stopping this war and remove Putin from power.’

He adds: ‘Our unfortunate tormented motherland needs to be saved.It was robbed, wounded, drawn into an aggressive war and turned into a prison run by the most shameless and deceitful villains.

‘I am not going to give them my country and I believe that the darkness will disappear.’

There are some who say Navalny should not be made a hero.That he is motivated by personal and political interest. That he is hardly a Western liberal. Even that his suffering is inconsequential compared to the suffering of the many thousands of Ukrainians who have lost their homes or their lives in Putin’s senseless war.

But that is to miss the point.In a country where the truth has been abandoned, Alexei Navalny has made a personal crusade of telling it.

Not only did he refuse to flee when he had the opportunity, he went willingly into the clutches of his tormentor. And as he languishes in a prison cell in the grip of his enemy, still he refuses to yield to the tyrant.

The man Putin fears: Opposition leader Alexei Navalny, now an inmate of a Russian penal colony (top).And, inset, a selfie with his wife Yulia in hospital in Berlin — where he was being treated for nerve-agent poisoning