Russian Alexei Navalny announces his return and challenges the Kremlin

« Russia is my country, Moscow is my city. This is why this morning I went to the website of the airline Pobeda [victoire, en russe], and I bought a ticket. “ In a text accompanied by a video speech broadcast Wednesday January 13, Russian opponent Alexeï Navalny announced for Sunday January 17 his return to Moscow, five months after his emergency hospitalization in Berlin following an attributed poisoning to the Russian security services (FSB), and despite the threat of imprisonment.

→ THE FACTS. Russia tightens the legal stranglehold on Alexey Navalny

« The question of whether to go home or not never arose, he writes. The only reason I ended up in Germany was because they tried to kill me. » Victim of unease on August 20 while leading an electoral campaign in Siberia, Alexeï Navalny was evacuated in a coma to the Charité hospital in Berlin, where he spent several days between life and death.

Three European laboratories have since found poisoning by a Novichok-type nerve agent, already used in the assassination attempt of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in Great Britain in 2018. A shocking investigation published by the site Bellingcat in mid-December confirms the suspicions by showing that Alexeï Navalny had been followed since 2017 by FSB agents specializing in the handling of chemical weapons.

In the sights of the FSB

The Kremlin’s pet peeve may affect its usual nonchalance, the risks of a return are enormous. For a long time in the sights of the authorities for his investigations against corruption, Alexeï Navalny is more than ever the man to kill for the all-powerful Russian secret services, from which President Vladimir Poutine comes. Unforgivable humiliation, the opponent published at the end of December the recording of a telephone call in which he traps a member of the FSB commando in charge of following him, and makes him confess the poisoning.

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The Kremlin’s ire resulted in the opening of an investigation for “Massive fraud” against the activist, and the promise of imprisonment for failing to respect his judicial review in the context of a former conviction. Alexeï Navalny denounces machinations aimed at keeping him in exile, but knows full well that he is exposed to prison as soon as his plane has landed in Moscow. He also knows that his return poses an equally dangerous dilemma for the Russian authorities.

“We do not know if the Kremlin will dare to stop him, the question does not achieve consensus among Russian political elites, explains political scientist Tatiana Stanovaïa. For the FSB it has become personal, and the “hardliners” (supporters of the hard line, Editor’s note), make it a matter of principle: not to appear weak. But others fear his arrest will spark unrest and protests. Putin will decide. And no one can predict what will happen if Navalny is arrested. “

“Foreign agents”

The authorities and the public media constantly present Alexeï Navalny as a provocateur stipended by the CIA. On television, the versions multiply to explain his “discomfort”, which is not the subject of any official investigation. As a result, only 15% of Russians believe that the opponent was poisoned for his political activities, according to a recent poll by the Levada Center.

→ PORTRAIT. After a year of exile, Ruslan Shaveddinov, Navalny’s right-hand man, returns to Moscow

Although he has undoubtedly established himself over the years as the number one opponent in the Kremlin, the opponent’s mobilization capacity remains the X factor of the looming collision. And that he assumes by concluding his message, without knowing whether he is addressed to his supporters or his opponents: “Come to meet me”.

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