Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny was arrested by police on Sunday evening as he landed in Russia, having back from germany where he had recovered from an assassination attempt blamed on the Kremlin.
Mr. Navalny, President Vladimir Putin more famous and the most outspoken critic, was arrested on his arrival in Moscow, after his flight from Berlin was diverted from Vnukovo airport where hundreds of his supporters had gathered and clashed with anti-police. riot.
In a joint statement, EU members Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania called his detention “totally unacceptable” and called for “restrictive measures” if he was not released. ” [The] The EU must act quickly and if it is not released, we must consider imposing restrictive measures in response to this blatant act, ”the countries’ foreign ministers said.
The 44-year-old anti-corruption activist and political organizer was airlifted to Berlin in August after being poisoned with the nerve agent novichok developed by the Soviets during a campaign trip.
He and many Western governments blamed the assassination attempt on the Kremlin, which denied being involved and made various statements, including that he was poisoned after leaving Russia, possibly by the CIA.
Mr. Navalny’s street protests, revelations of government corruption and political campaigns that helped topple Mr. Putin’s allies have proven to be a big irritant to the Kremlin in recent years.
His attempted assassination and detention on Sunday comes as he and his team prepare for September’s parliamentary elections, with support from Mr Putin’s ruling party at record levels.
Announcing his intention to return earlier this week, he said he was not discouraged by threats from Russian authorities to arrest and lock him up, claiming that they were trying to force him into voluntary exile.
His return is a direct challenge for Mr. Putin’s government, given that his imprisonment could trigger large-scale protests in his country and increased sentencing abroad.
“I’m not afraid. I know I’m right. I know that criminal charges against me have been fabricated,” Navalny told reporters after his plane landed, in remarks released by the Dozhd TV channel.
Minutes later, footage showed him being detained as he passed passport control at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, stopping to kiss his wife before being taken away by police.
The Russian prison service said he was detained for repeated violations of the conditions of a suspended prison sentence. “Before a court decision, he will remain in detention,” he said in a statement provided to public news agencies.
Mr Navalny was detained at the capital’s main airport, after his flight was rerouted minutes before landing at his planned arrival airport on the other side of town, where his supporters had flown. gathered.
“The reception of Navalny by the authorities at the airport is the best proof of their fear of him. They themselves inflate the importance of Navalny, ”Andrei Kolesnikov, chairman of the Russian domestic policy program at Carnegie Moscow, wrote on Twitter.
While his plane was in the air, police arrested 37 people, including two of Mr. Navalny’s closest associates, who were waiting at Vnukovo airport. Riot officers forced large crowds of supporters and waiting journalists out of the airport building, where dozens of police vans had gathered during the day.
“Of course, this is very Putin’s style – another special operation,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of R. Politik, a Russian political consultancy.
Moscow prison authorities have accused Mr. Navanly of breaking the terms of a suspended sentence imposed on a fraud conviction in 2014. If found guilty, he could be sentenced to three and a half years in prison.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the conviction was politically motivated. Russian investigators said last month they had opened a new fraud case against Mr Navalny with a maximum penalty of 10 years.
His poisoning with a banned chemical weapon prompted condemnation of European capitals, sanctions against six Russian officials and further worsened relations between Berlin and Moscow.
Last month Mr Navalny published an investigation which he said confirmed he was poisoned by FSB, The main Russian security service then released a recording of what he said was one of the suspected hitmen confessing to the Novichok attack.