Alexey Navalny returns to Moscow from Berlin and was arrested

(CNN) — The main figure of the Russian opposition and main critic of the Kremlin, Alexey Navalny, he was detained by local police on Sunday, moments after his return to the country.

He was taken “by police officers at the border” without explanation, his spokesman Kira Yarmysh tweeted. “The lawyer was not allowed to go with him, because just a few seconds ago ‘he crossed the border’.”

Navalny and his wife Yulia were returning from a five-month stay in Germany, where they recovered from poisoning with the military-grade nerve agent Novichok. They landed at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport shortly after 8 p.m. local time (12 p.m. Miami time), according to flight data information.

Standing at the airport after landing, Navalny told reporters: “This is the best day in the last five months.”

«Everyone asks me if I am afraid. I’m not afraid, “he added. “I feel completely fine walking towards border control. I know I will go and go home because I am right and all criminal cases against me are fabricated.

A perennial thorn in the side of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Navalny was placed on the country’s federal wanted list during his convalescence in Germany, in connection with a years-old fraud case that Navalany dismisses as politically motivated.

Last week, the Russian prison authority (FSIN) warned that it would “take all necessary measures to arrest” Navalny.

After the Navalny poisoning in August, a joint investigation CNN and the Bellingcat group implicated the Russian Security Service (FSB) in the poisoning, reconstructing how an elite unit of the agency followed Navalny’s team during a trip to Siberia in August, where Navalny was poisoned and ill on a flight. to Moscow.

The investigation also found that this unit, which included chemical weapons experts, had followed Navalny on more than 30 trips to and from Moscow since 2017. Russia denies its involvement in the Navalny poisoning. But several Western officials and Navalny himself have openly blamed Russia.

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, right, and his wife, Yulia Navalnya, on a Pobeda airline plane heading to Moscow before takeoff in Berlin on Sunday.

Diverted flight to Sheremetyevo

Navalny had initially been scheduled to land at Vnukovo airport, where a crowd of hundreds of supporters and journalists waited. CNN has not been able to establish why the flight was diverted.

The 2.5-hour journey of Russian airline Pobeda took off from Berlin Brandenburg Airport on Sunday afternoon.

Russian media broadcasts showed police arresting several allies waiting for him in Vnukovo, despite temperatures of around -20 degrees Celsius), including politician and lawyer Lyubov Sobol and Ruslan Shaveddinov, who works for the Anti-Corruption Foundation. of Navalny.

Before leaving Berlin, Navalny thanked all the other passengers on his flight, according to a live broadcast on TV Rain. “Thank you all, I hope we arrive safely,” he said. “And I’m sure everything will be absolutely great.”

In an Instagram post on Saturday, Navalny also wrote a post thanking Germany, adding that Germans were “kind, nice and friendly people.”

«Doctors and nurses. Physiotherapists and policemen. A lot of policeman. The neighbors who invited us to drink and those who let us rent. Politicians and lawyers. Merchants. Journalists. The prosecutors who questioned me at the request of Russia. Trainers. Teachers And even, once, the Chancellor. I had a fairly wide circle of friends here. And I can only thank everyone.

What’s next for Navalny?

Navalny, who has been detained many times by the Russian authorities, was placed on the country’s federal wanted list during his stay in Germany at the request of the FSIN, which in December accused him of violating parole terms in a case of Years of fraud that Navalany rejects for being politically motivated.

Now the FSIN alleges that Navalny has violated the terms of his suspended sentence by failing to show up for scheduled inspections.

The FSIN has requested that the court replace his suspended sentence with an actual prison sentence. A hearing is scheduled for January 29, and if the request is met, Navalny is likely to be jailed for 3.5 years.

In 2014, Navalny was found guilty of fraud after he and his brother Oleg were accused of embezzling 30 million rubles ($ 540,000) from a Russian subsidiary of the French cosmetics company Yves Rocher. While Navalny received a suspended sentence, his brother was jailed.

If Navalny is not convicted by the end of January, he will still face an investigation into a more recent fraud case, in which he and his Anti-Corruption Foundation have been accused of misusing donations from supporters.

Alexey Navalny at the hospital in Berlin, Germany, on Sept.15, 2020.

Putin, who refuses to recognize Navalny as a legitimate opponent, has described the extensive media coverage and investigations of the poisoning as an invention of Western intelligence and said in December that if the Russian security services had wanted to kill Navalny, They would have “finished” the job.

“The situation with Navalny looks like two trains rushing towards each other at full speed, destined to collide,” said Tatyana Stanovaya, a fellow visitor, also at the Carnegie Center in Moscow. “There will be many victims.”

In fact, the attacks on Navalny’s allies have continued. Pavel Zelensky, a cameraman for the Navalny Anti-Corruption Foundation, was arrested on Friday and will be detained until the end of February.

According to Agora, a Russian human rights organization, Zelensky was accused of extremism for the September tweets, in which he blamed the government for the self-immolation of journalist Irina Slavina. Before taking her own life, Slavina blamed pressure from Russian police for her decision to self-immolate.

CNN’s Claudia Otto and Fred Pleitgen contributed to this report.

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