Famed Putin critic and Russian political activist Alexei Navalny was arrested by Russian authorities shortly after arriving in Moscow on Sunday.
The official reason for his arrest, according to Russia’s penitentiary service, is that Navalny “had been wanted since 29 December 2020 for repeated violations of the probation period.” Authorities in Russia have previously convicted Navalny of embezzlement, but Navalny insists the cases against him were politically-motivated.
Navalny had been poisoned by a Novichok nerve agent in a failed assassination attempt five months ago, leaving him so ill that German doctors had no choice but to put him in a coma. Navalny is hardly the first anti-Russian-establishment political activist to be poisoned; Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko and investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya (who was later shot on Putin’s birthday) are but two names on the extensive list.
Though Navalny blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for the poisoning, the latter has denied any involvement, saying that if he’d intended to have Navalny poisoned, the assassination attempt would have been successful. Contrary to these claims, a joint investigation by Belligcat and The Insider found the FSB (Russia’s security agency and successor to the KGB) to be responsible for the poisoning.
Navalny’s arrival in Moscow following his near-miraculous survival attracted a crowd of dozens of activists who believe Putin was behind the poisoning, but they did not get to greet Navalny as his flight was re-routed to a different Moscow airport. Minutes after landing, Russian police detained him at passport control.
Navalny had been confident prior to his arrest, telling journalists, “I know that I’m right. I fear nothing.” Navalny kissed his wife as officers led him away, warning that they would use physical force if he did not comply. Several pro-Navalny activists were also detained by officers, including ally Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer of the Anti-Corruption Foundation.
Navalny’s arrest has caused condemnatory reactions not only within Russia and among groups who support his cause, but also throughout wider Europe. Following the arrest, Charles Michel, the President of the European Council, tweeted, “The detainment of Alexey #Navalny upon arrival in Moscow is unacceptable. I call on Russian authorities to immediately release him.”