MOSCOW – After trying a number of methods to silence the dissident Alexei Navalny and his supporters, Russian authorities tried something new this week: They seized one of his key allies, put him into compulsory military service and sent him to the Arctic.
Ruslan Shaveddinov, 23, a project manager in Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation, was detained on Monday at his apartment in Moscow. His cellphone's SIM card was disabled, Navalny said, so he couldn't tell his colleagues or lawyer what was happening.
Navalny's allies quickly raised the alarm that night after it appeared that Shaveddinov had gone missing and they found the door to his apartment smashed in.
The organization's lawyers and activists — many of them familiar with harassment by authorities — braced to find Shaveddinov at a police station and even filed a missing-person report. But Tuesday they learned that he was already 3,500 miles away, in Novaya Zemlya, a desolate, scantly populated group of islands in the Arctic Ocean, where he will serve at an air defense base.
Navalny, the most prominent Kremlin critic in a country where open political dissent is rare and often dangerous, blamed the man atop the Kremlin hierarchy, President Vladimir Putin.
"Looks like Mr. Putin himself drafted the plan to isolate our Ruslan," Navalny wrote on Twitter.
"I am impressed by the scale of the means and efforts used: His SIM card was disabled; the FSB broke the door," he added, referring to Russia's powerful security agency. "Within a day he was taken on several airplanes to Novaya Zemlya."
The archipelago, with two main islands, is an area of severe climate, where even in August temperatures rarely climb above 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Military service is mandatory in Russia for male citizens, who are drafted for one year, some time after turning 18 and before turning 28. The conscripts are often sent to remote areas away from home, where they are subjected to brutal hazing and bullying by more senior soldiers.
Scared of the army's reputation, many young Russians try to use all means available to avoid being drafted. Shaveddinov appealed the military commission's decision to draft him in court, arguing that he hadn't been properly examined by doctors.
"Military service has turned into a mechanism of imprisonment," Navalny wrote on Twitter. "Just a way to deprive people of freedom."