Alexei Navalny: Putin’s critic goes to trial after returning to Russia

Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was arrested minutes after arriving in Moscow from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from the alleged Novichok nerve agent poisoning. Navalny now faces a court hearing to prolong his detention in the police station.

Alexei Navalny, Russian anti-corruption campaigner. Source: WikiCommons

On Sunday evening Navalny was led away by police at passport control in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport after officials said he had violated the terms of a suspended sentence for embezzlement imposed in 2014. His detention on arrival was widely expected, as the Russian prison service warned he violated parole terms. Navalny is in custody until the court rules on his case, and his condition is unknown.

Thousands of supporters have gathered to greet the politician at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport, where his flight was initially supposed to land. The flight was diverted to Sheremetyevo last minute, citing technical issues. At Sheremetyevo, Navalny was met by the police.

The most prominent face of Russian opposition

Alexi Navalny is a Russian anti-corruption campaigner, blogger, and the most prominent face of opposition to Vladimir Putin. Although banned from access to the Russian state-funded media, Navalny has over four million followers on his YouTube channel, where he exposes corruption among the Russian political elite. For example, in one of his videos with 37 million views, Navalny flies drones over lavish properties, yachts and vineyards he alleges were bought with corrupt money by Putin’s political wingman Dmitry Medvedev.

Despite leading nation-wide protests, Navalny never got the chance to challenge Putin at the ballot box. He was barred from running as a presidential candidate in 2018 on embezzlement charges by the Russian court. Together with his brother Oleg Navalny, the opposition leader was convicted of stealing about $500,000 from two Russian firms, one of which was affiliated with French cosmetics company Yves Rocher, and of laundering part of the amount. Navalny denies accusations, saying his legal troubles are a Kremlin’s plot to punish him for harsh criticism.

Novichok poisoning

In August 2020, Navalny collapsed on a flight over Siberia. He went into a coma at an Omsk hospital in Russia and was airlifted to Germany for further treatment. In September the German government said that tests carried out by the military found ‘unequivocal proof of a chemical nerve warfare agent of the Novichok group’. Novichok is a chemical weapon developed in the Soviet Union that nearly killed former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal in 2018. The Kremlin has denied any state role in the poisoning of Navalny and disputes the Novichok allegation.

World leaders condemn the arrest

The arrest of Navalny has caused a blast among political leaders worldwide. UK’s foreign secretary Dominic Raab has called for the immediate release of Navalny. Jake Sullivan, Joe Biden’s incoming national security advisor, called Navalny’s arrest a violation of human rights. Among other countries condemning the arrest are Germany, France, Italy, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania.

Edward Snowden, an American whistle-blower, who Russia granted asylum, has criticised the arrest calling it ‘a crime against the whole of Russia’.

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