Jan 17, 2021 - World

Alexey Navalny detained after landing back in Moscow

Navalny and his wife shortly before he was detained. Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny was detained upon his return to Moscow on Sunday, which came five months after he was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok. He returned despite being warned that he would be arrested.

The latest: Navalny was stopped at a customs checkpoint and led away alone by officers. He appeared to hug his wife goodbye, and his spokesman reports that his lawyer was not allowed to accompany him.

  • Vnukovo airport — where Navalny was scheduled to land and a group of supporters had gathered — was closed to arriving aircraft shortly before his flight was set to land.
  • He landed instead at Sheremetyevo airport, speaking briefly with reporters before walking on to passport control, where several officers were waiting for him.

What they're saying: Jake Sullivan, Joe Biden's incoming National Security adviser, denounced what he called "the Kremlin's attacks on Mr. Navalny" as "a violation of human rights" and "an affront to the Russian people who want their voices heard."

Flashback: In August, Navalny collapsed on a flight to Moscow from the Siberian city of Tomsk, and was taken to a local hospital before being allowed to travel to Germany for treatment.

  • German authorities said he'd been poisoned with Novichok, which is developed exclusively by the Russian military. One of the Russian agents involved in the botched operation was later duped into revealing how it was carried out — on a call with Navalny himself.
  • The Kremlin has denied any role in the poisoning, but did warn that Navalny would face arrest upon his return to Russia, officially for violating the terms of a suspended prison term he received in 2014 (he missed an appointment in December while recovering in Germany).
Navalny hugs his wife before being led away. Screengrab via YouTube/Radio Free Europe

On the scene: A large police presence awaited Navalny at Vnukovo airport, and several of his aides and supporters were arrested prior to his arrival.

  • The airport was reportedly cleared of all non-passengers, with riot police also on hand.
  • Those steps, in addition to the last-minute change in the arrival airport, undercut the Kremlin narrative that Navalny is a figure of little concern.

The backstory: Navalny made his name as a video blogger and anti-corruption activist. He has organized some of the largest protests against Putin, who refuses to refer to him by name.

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