Alexei Navalny heading back to Russia amid arrest threats

World Sunday 17/January/2021 17:11 PM
By: DW
Alexei Navalny heading back to Russia amid arrest threats

The fierce Kremlin critic and political campaigner Alexei Navalny was set to take off for Russia on Sunday, despite being warned by Russian authorities that he will be arrested upon his arrival.

Navalny was due to fly with Russian airline Pobeda and scheduled to land in Moscow's Vnukovo airport at 7:20 p.m. local time (1620 GMT/UTC).

Security had been tightened around the airport awaiting Navalny's arrival. The 44-year-old called on his supporters to meet him there, but authorities warned against unauthorized rallies on the premises.

Other activists and allies of Navalny said they had been stopped by police early on Sunday. Journalists complained that they had been banned from entering the airport on the grounds of coronavirus regulations.

However, other reporters and activists were accompanying Navalny on his flight.

Authorities intend to put the activist behind bars

One of President Vladimir Putin's main rivals, Navalny was flown to Berlin in August last year after surviving an assassination attempt from the Novichok nerve agent.

The Russian federal prison service FSIN said on Thursday that it would take all actions necessary to detain him and had requested that his suspended sentence be upgraded to jail time.

Navalny was convicted in 2014 of fraud charges which the European Court of Human Rights has ruled unlawful.

"In theory they can detain him as soon as he arrives [in Russia] but initially only for 48 hours," said Vadim Kobzev, one of Navalny's lawyers.

Moscow has denied all allegations of poisoning the anti-corruption activist although scientists in Germany, Sweden and France, as well as tests from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons all confirmed traces of the Soviet-era nerve-agent found on Navalny.

The activist also recorded a phone call with the agent who allegedly poisoned him admitting to his actions. Moscow has rejected the recordings as fake.

Navalny's poisoning and later treatment in Germany have been a source of contention between Russia and the EU.

Late last year, the European Union imposed travel bans and bank account freezes on several Russian officials over the incident, including the head of Russia's FSB intelligence service.