Kremlin Critic Navalny Arrested After Arriving in Russia

BERLIN (Reuters/AP) -
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is seen on board a plane before the departure for the Russian capital Moscow at an airport in Berlin, Germany, Sunday. (Reuters/Polina Ivanova)

Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was arrested in passport control in a Moscow airport, his lawyers said. Navalny was returning to Russia despite a risk of an arrest.

“Me, arrested? I’m an innocent person,” he told reporters when boarding the plane in Germany to head back.

His wife was allowed to enter Russia.

At the end of December, the Federal Penitentiary Service, or FSIN, warned Navalny that he faced time in prison if he fails to immediately report to its office in line with the terms of a suspended sentence and probation he received for a 2014 conviction on charges of embezzlement and money laundering that he rejected as politically motivated. The European Court for Human Rights had ruled that his conviction was unlawful.

The FSIN said Thursday it issued an arrest warrant for Navalny after he failed to report to its office. The prison service, which has asked a Moscow court to turn Navalny’s 3½-year suspended sentence into a real one, said it’s “obliged to take all the necessary action to detain Navalny pending the court’s ruling.”

Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport, where Navalny’s flight is due to land, last week said it is banning journalists from its terminal, citing epidemiological concerns. Many of his supporters were expected to try to gather in the terminal to welcome Navalny, if he is able to get through passport control without being arrested.

Security measures at the airport were heightened on Sunday, with several prisoner-transport trucks parked outside.

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

Navalny fell into a coma while aboard a domestic flight from Siberia to Moscow on Aug. 20. He was transferred from a hospital in Siberia to a Berlin hospital two days later.

Labs in Germany, France and Sweden, and tests by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, established that he was exposed to a Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent.

Russian authorities insisted that the doctors who treated Navalny in Siberia before he was airlifted to Germany found no traces of poison and have challenged German officials to provide proof of his poisoning. They refused to open a full-fledged criminal inquiry, citing a lack of evidence that Navalny was poisoned.

Last month, Navalny released the recording of a phone call he said he made to a man he described as an alleged member of a group of officers of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, who purportedly poisoned him in August and then tried to cover it up. The FSB dismissed the recording as fake.


Updated Sunday, January 17, 2021 at 1:19 pm .