Upon entry in Moscow on Sunday, police arrested popular Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. This was just after he flew home from Germany to Russia for the very first time after the jail of last year, sparking a diplomatic confrontation with the West.
The step, which could see Navalny detained for three-and-a-half years for allegedly breaching the terms of a suspended prison term, could reawaken public pressure on the West to strengthen sanctions on Russia, particularly against an $11.6 billion gas pipeline building project to Germany from Russia.
In a case that drew wide international attention, Navalny was poisoned last summer by what German military tests showed was a Novichok nerve agent, a version of events the Kremlin rejects.
Navalny recovered in Germany and after he said last week he planned to return home, the Moscow prison service (FSIN) said it would do everything to arrest him once he returned, accusing him of flouting the terms of a suspended prison sentence for embezzlement, a 2014 case he says was trumped up.
But the 44-year-old opposition politician cracked jokes on his plane with journalists. He claimed that he was not afraid and didn’t think he was going to go to jail.
What Happened In Moscow:
Four masked police officers asked Navalny to join him to the Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport passport control department before he officially entered Russia. They did not specify why. Navalny walked away with them, after embracing his wife Yulia on the face.
Supporters of Navalny have said incarcerating one of the most influential domestic critics of President Vladimir Putin might turn him into a Nelson Mandela-like image and an extremely popular icon of Kremlin protest.
The Kremlin, which response only to him as the “patient of Berlin,” laughs that off. Putin’s allies point to polling data showing that the Russian leader is much more common than Navalny. He instead of a politician called him a blogger.
Minutes before his arrest, Navalny had said: “I am not afraid. I know that I am right. I know all the criminal cases against me are fabricated.”
Navalny’s plane from Berlin redirected at the last minute from another Moscow airport to Sheremetyevo airport for technical reasons. This was in an apparent attempt by the officials to foil the greeting of journalists and supporters.
In a statement, Moscow’s FSIN said Navalny is in jail because of the suspected violations of his suspended prison sentence. He will be in jail until a court hearing later this month that would determine. This will decide whether to turn his conditional discharge into a real jail sentence of 3.5.