Alexei Navalny returning to Russian Federation for first time since nerve agent poisoning

17 Janvier, 2021, 18:06 | Auteur: Anatole Charbonneau
  • Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny in front of a Russian flag

Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader, is returning to the country for the first time since he was poisoned with a nerve agent, and despite the threat of being immediately arrested. Russia's prison service has asked a Moscow court to put top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny behind bars for breaching the terms of his suspended sentence and probation.

Navalny is traveling from Berlin to Moscow after recovering in Germany from his poisoning in August with a nerve agent.

"This is the best moment in the last five months", he told reporters who had bought seats on the same plane carrying him back to Moscow.

He said he didn't think he would be arrested, calling himself an innocent person.

"What do I need to be afraid of?" "I feel like a citizen of Russian Federation who has every right to return", he added.

Mr. Navalny, who is hoping for success in parliamentary elections in September, faces potential trouble in three other criminal cases too, all of which he says are politically motivated.

His return poses a conundrum for the Kremlin: jail him and risk protests and punitive Western action by turning him into a political martyr. Or do nothing and risk looking weak in the eyes of Kremlin hardliners.

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His detention by the Presnensky District Court comes a day before Navalny's planned return to Russian Federation since being poisoned in August and evacuated to Germany where he has been recuperating. The Kremlin denies involvement, says it has seen no evidence that he was poisoned, and that he is free to return to Russian Federation. Arresting Mr Navalny is likely to trigger wide public discontent and more worldwide sanctions while letting him go free risks enraging hard-liners in the establishment who deem him to be a threat to national security.

He announced on Wednesday that he would return home on a flight operated by Pobeda, a subsidiary of Russia's state-controlled airline Aeroflot.

The independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta and opposition social media reported on Sunday that several of Mr Navalny's supporters in St Petersburg had been removed from Moscow-bound trains or been prevented from boarding flights late Saturday and early Sunday, including the co-ordinator of his staff for the region of Russia's second-largest city.

More than 2,000 people said in a Facebook event that they are planning to greet Navalny upon his return despite temperatures in Moscow hovering around -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit).

Groups opposed to Navalny are also planning to show up at the airport. Pro-Kremlin activists are also expected to turn up.

There was a heavy police presence at Vnukovo, AFP journalists at the airport said, after authorities warned that mass events would not be allowed because of Covid restrictions. Journalists complained that they had been banned from entering the airport on the grounds of coronavirus regulations.

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