Alexey Navalny has been arrested at a Moscow airport as he tried to enter the country from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from an alleged nerve agent poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin.
The Kremlin critic’s detention on Sunday at passport control in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport was widely expected as Russia’s prisons service said he had violated parole terms from a suspended sentence on a 2014 embezzlement conviction.
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The prison service said he would be held in custody until a court rules on his case. No date for a court appearance was immediately announced.
The service earlier said it would seek to have Navalny serve his three-and-a-half-year sentence behind bars for the 2014 charge, which Navalny claims is politically motivated.
His lawyers on Monday said they had not been granted access to him since he was detained, and that his condition was unknown.
Alexander Baunov, a senior fellow at the Moscow Carnegie Centre, described Navalny’s choice to return as “brave”.
“He always [said] he was a brave man, who has no fear before the authorities, of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and the law and order machine. Now is the time to prove these claims,” Baunov told Al Jazeera. “If he stayed abroad, he would diminish his claims.”
His arrest set off a wave of reactions from officials and world leaders, many of whom called for his immediate release.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Monday that expressions of outrage reflect an attempt “to divert attention from the crisis of the Western model of development”.
Al Jazeera’s Aleksandra Godfroid, reporting from Moscow, said the international reaction was unlikely to impact the Kremlin.
“We know from the past that such requests and such pleas to the Kremlin are not very well met by the Russian authorities,” Godfroid said. “That is to say, they are not going to make them release Navalny or show any lenience towards him.”
United Nations Human Rights Council
The United Nations Human Rights Council (OHCHR) said it was “deeply troubled” by Navalny’s arrest.
In a post on Twitter, the agency called for the Kremlin critic’s “immediate release” and “for his due process rights to be respected in line with the rule of law”.
“We reiterate our call for a thorough and impartial investigation into his poisoning,” it said.
🇷🇺 #Russia: We are deeply troubled by the arrest of Aleksei Navalny, and call for his immediate release and for his due process rights to be respected in line with the rule of law. We reiterate our call for a thorough and impartial investigation into his poisoning.
— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) January 18, 2021
Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has urged the immediate release of Navalny, stressing that Russia is bound to protect civil rights.
“Russia is bound by its own constitution and by international obligations to the principle of the rule of law and to the protection of civil rights,” Maas said in a statement.
“These principles must, of course, be applied to Alexei Navalny as well. He should be released immediately.”
Italy’s foreign minister Luigi Di Maio said Navalny’s arrest was a “very serious matter”.
“We ask for his immediate release. And we expect his rights to be respected”, Luigi Di Maio said in a Twitter post.
L’arresto di Navalny al suo arrivo in Russia è un fatto molto grave, che ci preoccupa. Ne chiediamo l’immediato rilascio. E ci aspettiamo che siano rispettati i suoi diritti.
— Luigi Di Maio (@luigidimaio) January 17, 2021
Italian Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri on Twitter also called for Navalny’s immediate release.
France’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Agnes von der Muhll, said in a statement that Paris is following the situation with “utmost vigilance”.
“France takes note with great concern of the arrest in Russia of Mr. Alexei Navalny. With its European partners, it is following the situation with the utmost vigilance and call for his immediate release.”
“It is appalling that Alexei Navalny, the victim of a despicable crime, has been detained by Russian authorities. He must be immediately released,” UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.
“Rather than persecuting Mr Navalny Russia should explain how a chemical weapon came to be used on Russian soil.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was “deeply troubled” by Navalny’s arrest.
“Confident political leaders do not fear competing voices, nor see the need to commit violence against or wrongfully detain, political opponents,” Pompeo said in a post on Twitter.
Deeply troubled by Russia's decision to arrest Aleksey Navalny. Confident political leaders do not fear competing voices, nor see the need to commit violence against or wrongfully detain, political opponents.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) January 18, 2021
Jake Sullivan, President-elect Joe Biden’s Biden’s incoming White House national security adviser, called Navalny’s arrest a violation of human rights.
Mr. Navalny should be immediately released, and the perpetrators of the outrageous attack on his life must be held accountable. The Kremlin’s attacks on Mr. Navalny are not just a violation of human rights, but an affront to the Russian people who want their voices heard.
— Jake Sullivan (@jakejsullivan) January 17, 2021
“Mr. Navalny should be immediately released, and the perpetrators of the outrageous attack on his life must be held accountable,” Sullivan said on Twitter.
“The Kremlin’s attacks on Mr. Navalny are not just a violation of human rights, but an affront to the Russian people who want their voices heard.”
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the detention of Navalny is “another attempt to intimidate the democratic opposition in Russia”.
“A swift and unequivocal response at the EU level is essential. Respect for citizens’ rights is the cornerstone of democracy,” Morawiecki wrote on Twitter.
Zatrzymanie @Navalny to kolejna próba zastraszenia demokratycznej opozycji w Rosji. Szybka i jednoznaczna reakcja na poziomie UE jest niezbędna. Poszanowanie praw obywatelskich stanowi podstawy demokracji. Apeluję do władz w Rosji o natychmiastowe uwolnienie zatrzymanego.
— Mateusz Morawiecki (@MorawieckiM) January 17, 2021
“I appeal to the authorities in Russia to release the detainee immediately.”
In September, Morawiecki suggested that Russia was a “hostile regime” after Germany said Navalny had been poisoned with a Soviet-style Novichok nerve agent.
Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia
European Union member Lithuania said it will ask the EU to swiftly impose new sanctions on Russia in response to the arrest of Navalny.
“We urge Russia to immediately release Navalny and to arraign those responsible for the attempt on his life,” Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Gabrielius Landsbergis said in a statement.
The Lithuanian statement, sent to Reuters, said Navalny’s arrest was in violation of human rights principles as set by the European Council.
In an earlier tweet, the minister said neighbouring EU countries Latvia and Estonia would also work towards “imposition of restrictive measures” against Russia.