Russian Kremlin Critic, Who Was Poisoned, Detained After Returning To Russia

Russian Kremlin Critic, Who Was Poisoned, Detained After Returning To Russia

Russian police detained top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny at a Moscow airport on Sunday just minutes after he returned home for the first time since his poisoning last summer.

Fierce Kremlin critic and political campaigner Alexei Navalny was detained after flying out of Germany and returning to Russia on Sunday, defying warnings by Russian authorities.

Navalny was detained at passport control at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport less than an hour after he flew in from Berlin in defiance of warnings that he faced imminent arrest.

His detention prompted immediate condemnation from the European Union and calls for EU sanctions against Russia by Lithuania.

"The detainment of Alexey Navalny upon arrival in Moscow is unacceptable. I call on Russian authorities to immediately release him," European Council president Charles Michel wrote on Twitter.

EU member Lithuania's Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, meanwhile, said his detention was "totally unacceptable" and those involved should be targeted by sanctions.

His detention has been slammed by European and US officials, who are calling for Russian authorities to "immediately" release him.

Navalny's plane landed at Sheremetyevo after a dramatic last-minute diversion from another Moscow airport, where several of his top allies were detained while waiting for him to arrive.

The arrest suggests that officials will no longer tolerate the activities of a long-time anti-corruption campaigner and government critic, who has become President Vladimir Putin's most prominent rival over the past decade.

Four uniformed policemen in black face masks met Navalny on passport control and were led by an embrace and kissed by his wife Yulia, AFP reporters at the scene said.

"Alexei was detained without the reason being explained," Navalny's lawyer Olga Mikhailova told AFP at the airport. "Everything that is happening now is against the law."

But Russia's FSIN prison service said it had detained Navalny for "multiple violations" of a 2014 suspended sentence for fraud, adding that "he will be held in custody" until a court ruling.

FSIN had previously warned Navalny that he would be arrested for failing to meet the conditions of probation while in Germany, in which he would be examined twice a month with service.

Flight said that Navalny was being taken from Germany, where the 44-year-old was recovering from the poison of a nerve-agent that he attacked the Kremlin, at 8:15 pm (1715 GMT), near AFP journalists Sharmatevo Landed in

The pilot had told passengers there was a delay for "technical reasons" and then that the flight had been diverted from Vnukovo where Navalny's supporters and media were waiting for his return.

Supporters had gathered at Vnukovo despite the airport banning mass events because of coronavirus restrictions. With his plane still in the air, police detained top Navalny aides including prominent Moscow activist Lyubov Sobol.

The pilot had told the passengers that it was delayed for "technical reasons" and the flight was then diverted from Vanukovo, where Navalny's supporters and the media were awaiting her return.

Supporters gathered in Vanukovo despite mass programs being banned due to coronovirus restrictions at the airport. With its aircraft still in the air, police detained top naval aides including Moscow's leading activist Hussov Sobol.

There was a heavy security presence at Vnukovo, the AFP journalists there said, including dozens of police in riot gear with black helmets and batons.

Some Navalny supporters had also answered a call from his team to show up, including Tanya Shchukina, an artist who had travelled from Saint Petersburg."It is important for me, as a Russian citizen, to support this man, his courage," she told AFP. "After this assassination attempt... I had to come to support him, to show him that he is not alone, that everything will be okay."

Navalny fell violently ill on a flight over Siberia in August and was flown out to Berlin in an induced coma.Western experts concluded he was poisoned with Soviet-designed nerve toxin Novichok and Navalny alleges the attack was carried out on Putin's orders.The Kremlin denies any involvement and Russian investigators said there were no grounds to launch a probe into the attack.

The anti-graft campaigner may also face criminal charges under a probe launched late last year by Russian investigators who say he misappropriated over $4 million worth of donations.

Anti-corruption investigations

Navalny has been the symbol of Russia's protest movement for a decade, after rising to prominence as an anti-corruption blogger and leading anti-government street rallies.

He publishes YouTube investigations into the wealth of Russia's political elites. Some of the videos garner millions of views, making the activist's team a target of lawsuits, police raids and jail stints.

Navalny is ignored or given negative coverage by state-controlled TV, the primary source of news for many Russians, making it unclear how much support they receive among ordinary citizens.According to a survey published by the independent Levada Center last year, only 20 percent of respondents said they approved Navalny's actions, while 50 percent disapproved.

The Kremlin rival has never held an elected position. He came on second vote for mayor of Moscow in 2013 but was barred from standing against Putin in the 2018 presidential elections.

His colleagues are also often prevented from running for election.

In 2019, many Navalny colleagues were barred from running for the Moscow city council, which would span mass rallies in the capital that lasted several weeks.

His team is gearing up to challenge the ruling United Russia Party in the lower house state duma elections due in September.