Russia critic Navalny gives first interview from jail

Gulags have been replaced by 'psychological violence' of brainwashing and propaganda, dissident says

Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny built his political career on exposing corruption in Russia. Reuters
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Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has given his first interview from prison, saying he is forced to watch eight hours of state television a day.

Navalny, who built his political career on exposing corruption in Russia, is being held in a maximum-security prison colony in Pokrov, 100 kilometres east of Moscow.

He told The New York Times the days of heavy labour in Soviet gulags were over — replaced by what he called the “psychological violence” of brainwashing and propaganda.

“You might imagine tattooed muscle men with steel teeth carrying on with knife fights to take the best cot by the window,” Navalny was quoted as saying in the interview, published on Wednesday.

“You need to imagine something ... where everybody marches in a line and where video cameras are hung everywhere. There is constant control and a culture of snitching.”

He said guards monitor them as they watch hours of state propaganda, not allowing them to read or write, and waking inmates up if they fall asleep.

But Navalny remained upbeat about the future of the regime of Vladimir Putin, insisting that one day it would end.

“Sooner or later, this mistake will be fixed, and Russia will move on to a democratic, European path of development, simply because that is what the people want,” he said.

He also repeated criticisms of the US and European governments for sanctions on Russia, which he said harm Russian people rather than those in power.

He said he has not been assaulted by any fellow prisoners and even described having “fun” making snacks with them.

Navalny has not been silent since his jailing in March, releasing a letter from prison and also releasing several social media posts, but the interview with the Times was the first since his imprisonment.

Western intelligence agencies have assessed with “high confidence” that FSB officers poisoned Navalny with the nerve agent Novichok last year.

The dissident was flown to Germany for treatment but defiantly returned to Russia in January, only to be arrested and sent to the penal colony.

The Kremlin denies poisoning Navalny and has maintained his prison sentence is not political.

This month, he was charged with new crimes that could prolong his detention by three years.

If found guilty, he could be released only after 2024, the year Russia is scheduled to hold a presidential election.

His political movement has faced unprecedented pressure before the September parliamentary polls, in which Mr Putin's United Russia party is expected to struggle.

Updated: August 25, 2021, 7:30 PM