Alexey Navalny was arrested at a Moscow airport as he tried to enter the country from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from alleged nerve poisoning he attributed to Kremlin.
The detention of the Kremlin critic on Sunday at passport control at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport was widely expected, as the Russian prison service said he violated the parole conditions of a suspended sentence on a conviction for hijacking of funds in 2014.
The prison service said he will be kept in detention until a court rules on his case. No court date was immediately announced.
The service said earlier it would seek to serve his three-and-a-half-year sentence behind bars for the 2014 charge, which Navalny claims is politically motivated.
His lawyers said Monday that they had not had access to him since his detention and that his condition was unknown.
Alexander Baunov, principal researcher at the Carnegie Center in Moscow, called Navalny’s choice to return as “courageous.”
“He always [said] he was a courageous man, who is not afraid in front of the authorities, of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and the law enforcement machine. The time has come to prove these claims, ”Baunov told Al Jazeera. “If he stayed abroad, he would lessen his claims.”
His arrest sparked backlash from officials and world leaders, many of whom called for his immediate release.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Monday that the expressions of outrage reflected an attempt to “distract from the crisis from the Western development model.”
Al Jazeera’s Aleksandra Godfroid, reporting from Moscow, said the international reaction was unlikely to impact the Kremlin.
“We know from the past that these demands and appeals to the Kremlin are not very well received by the Russian authorities,” Godfroid said. “That is to say, they are not going to get them to release Navalny or show leniency towards him.”
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called for Navalny’s immediate release, stressing Russia’s obligation to protect civil rights.
“Russia is bound by its own constitution and by international obligations to the principle of the rule of law and the protection of civil rights,” Maas said in a statement.
“These principles must, of course, be applied to Alexei Navalny as well. He should be released immediately.
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said Navalny’s arrest was “a very serious matter”.
“We demand his immediate release. And we expect his rights to be respected, ”Luigi Di Maio said in a Twitter message.
The arrest of Navalny on his arrival in Russia is a very serious fact that worries us. We call for his immediate release. And we expect your rights to be respected.
– Luigi Di Maio (@luigidimaio) January 17, 2021
Italian Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri on Twitter also called for Navalny’s immediate release.
French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said in a statement that Paris was monitoring the situation “with the utmost vigilance”.
“France takes note with deep concern of the arrest in Russia of Mr. Alexei Navalny. Together with his European partners, he is monitoring the situation with the greatest vigilance and calls for his immediate release.
“It is appalling that Alexei Navalny, victim of a heinous crime, has been arrested by the Russian authorities. He must be immediately released, ”said British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab.
“Rather than persecuting Mr. Navalny, Russia should explain how a chemical weapon came to be used on Russian soil.”
Jake Sullivan, President-elect Joe Biden’s new national security adviser in the White House, has called Navalny’s arrest a human rights violation.
Mr. Navalny must be immediately released and the perpetrators of the scandalous attack on his life must be held accountable. The Kremlin’s attacks on Mr. Navalny are not only a violation of human rights, but an affront to the Russian people who want their voice to be heard.
– Jake Sullivan (@jakejsullivan) January 17, 2021
“Sir. Navalny should be immediately released and the perpetrators of the outrageous attack on his life should be held accountable,” Sullivan said on Twitter.
“The Kremlin’s attacks on Mr. Navalny are not only a violation of human rights, but an affront to the Russian people who want their voice to be heard.”
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Navalny’s detention was “yet another attempt to intimidate the democratic opposition in Russia”.
“A swift and unequivocal response at EU level is essential. Respect for citizens’ rights is the cornerstone of democracy, ”Morawiecki wrote on Twitter.
Stop @Navalny it is another attempt to intimidate the democratic opposition in Russia. A swift and unequivocal response at EU level is essential. Respect for the rights of citizens is the cornerstone of democracy. I call on the Russian authorities to immediately release the detainee.
– Mateusz Morawiecki (@MorawieckiM) January 17, 2021
“I call on the Russian authorities to immediately release the detainee.”
In September, Morawiecki suggested that Russia was a “hostile regime” after Germany said Navalny had been poisoned with a Soviet-type nerve agent Novichok.
Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia
Lithuania, a member of the European Union, has said it will call on the EU to swiftly impose new sanctions on Russia in response to Navalny’s arrest.
“We urge Russia to immediately release Navalny and bring to justice those responsible for the attack on his life,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said in a statement.
Lithuania’s statement, sent to Reuters, said Navalny’s arrest violated human rights principles defined by the European Council.
In a previous tweet, the minister said the EU’s neighboring countries, Latvia and Estonia, would also work to “impose restrictive measures” against Russia.