The U.K. government has sanctioned six Russian officials involved in running the ‘Polar Wolf’ Arctic penal colony in response to the death of Putin opponent Alexei Navalny inside the prison camp on Friday last week. 

The British response will see the head of the prison, Colonel Vadim Konstantinovich Kalinin, and five deputies subjected to travel bans and asset freezes, in what marks the first new set of sanctions against Russia since the 47-year-old campaigner’s death on Feb. 16.

Navalny was sent to the Polar Wolf colony in December 2023 where he was denied medical treatment, kept in solitary confinement for weeks at a time, and forced to walk in freezing temperatures of -32°C (-25.6°F), the U.K. government said as it blamed the prison for his death.

“It’s clear that the Russian authorities saw Navalny as a threat and they tried repeatedly to silence him,” U.K. foreign secretary Lord Cameron said. “FSB operatives poisoned him with Novichok in 2020, they imprisoned him for peaceful political activities, and they sent him to an Arctic penal colony. No-one should doubt the oppressive nature of the Russian system.”

“That’s why we’re today sanctioning the most senior prison officials responsible for his custody in the penal colony where he spent his final months. Those responsible for Navalny’s brutal treatment should be under no illusion – we will hold them accountable.

The individuals sanctioned include:

  • Colonel Vadim Konstantinovich Kalinin: Head of IK-3 Arctic Penal Colony ‘Polar Wolf’

  • Lieutenant Colonel Sergey Nikolaevich Korzhov: Deputy Head

  • Lieutenant Colonel Vasily Alexandrovich Vydrin: Deputy Head

  • Lieutenant Colonel Vladimir Ivanovich Pilipchik: Deputy Head

  • Lieutenant Colonel Aleksandr Vladimirovich Golyakov: Deputy Head

  • Colonel Aleksandr Valerievich Obraztsov: Deputy Head

First opened in the 1960s as part of a system of ‘Gulag’ forced labor camps opened by the Soviet Union, the IK-3 penal colony, which is widely referred to as ‘Polar Wolf’ is considered to be one of Russia’s toughest maximum security prisons due to its sub-zero temperatures and remote location. 

In a statement, the U.K. also called on Russia to “immediately” return Navalny’s body to his family, following reports it is currently being held for two weeks for “chemical analysis. Britain’s foreign office had previously called for a full investigation into Navalny’s death.

Prior to his arrival at ‘Polar Wolf,’ Navalny has previously spent three years in Russia’s prison system after being arrested at an airport in Moscow for parole violations following his return from Germany in January 2021. 

The former lawyer had earlier been evacuated out of Russia to receive medical treatment in Berlin’s Charité Hospital in August 2020, after he started suffering serious symptoms that were later attributed to the impacts of poisoning with the deadly nerve agent Novichok. 

Navalny’s death led to protests across Russia that resulted in at least 400 people being detained across 32 of the country’s cities in what was described as the largest show of public outrage since the start of the Ukraine war. 

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