Russian police arrested opposition leader Alexei Navalny after he returned to Russia from Germany. Officials at the Kremlin are dismissing calls from U.S. and European officials to release the outspoken leader. Yesterday, Russian government officials called these recent developments “an absolutely internal matter.”
On August 20, 2020, Navalny fell into a coma on a flight from Siberia to Moscow. He arrived at a Berlin hospital two days later to receive treatment. Labs in Germany, France, and Sweden, and tests by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, established that Navalny had been poisoned by a Soviet-era nerve agent.
Russian authorities insist that the doctors who treated Navalny in Siberia found no traces of poison. They refused to open a full-fledged criminal probe.
Navalny blames his poisoning on President Vladimir Putin’s government. (For more on Navalny and the poisoning, read Russian Poison Victim.)
Last month, he released the recording of a phone call. Navalny says he made the call to a member of a group of officers of Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB. Navalny believes the FSB poisoned him in August and then tried to cover it up. The FSB dismissed the recording as fake.
Statements have come from around the globe condemning Navalny’s arrest. Many are requesting the leader’s immediate release. The arrest and the resulting uproar have added to the tensions between Russia and the West. Some EU countries are even calling for more sanctions (official punishments and trade restrictions) against Moscow.
So far, the Kremlin isn’t backing down. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters yesterday: “We can’t and are not going to take these statements into account.” He insists, “We are talking about a fact of non-compliance with the Russian law by a citizen of Russia. This is an absolutely internal matter and we will not allow anyone to interfere in it and do not intend to listen to such statements.”
Russian police detained Navalny at passport control at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport. He had flown in on Sunday evening from Berlin. On Monday, a quickly set-up court sentenced him to pre-trial detention for 30 days.
Russia’s prison service maintains Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition figure and anti-corruption campaigner, violated the terms of his probation for a 2014 money-laundering conviction. The European Court of Human Rights has questioned that decision. But Russian officials want Navalny to serve a three-and-a-half-year sentence in prison.
Navalny believes the crackdown against him is a sign of Putin’s fear. But Peskov insists Navalny has violated the law. He says questions law enforcement had for him “have nothing whatsoever to do with the Russian president.”
After the arrest on Monday, Navalny’s allies announced preparations for nationwide mass protests on Saturday. They also released a video of Navalny urging people to not “be afraid” and “take to the streets.”
(Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, right, walks handcuffed after a court hearing in Moscow, Russia, on Monday, January 18, 2021. AP/Pavel Golovkin)