Canada

Putin critic Navalny to fly back to Russia despite threats of arrest

MOSCOW, Jan 17 (Reuters) — Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny is due to fly back to Russia on Sunday for the first time since he was poisoned last summer, despite the authorities’ stated desire to arrest him and potentially jail him for years.

Navalny, one of President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent domestic critics, announced his decision to return from Germany on Wednesday, saying he missed Moscow and was not interested in what he called new fabricated criminal cases against him.

A day later, the Russian capital’s prison service 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.

Read more: ‘Unacceptable act of censorship’: Putin critic Navalny criticizes Trump Twitter ban

Navalny, who is hoping for success in parliamentary elections in September, faces potential trouble in three other criminal cases too, all of which he says are politically motivated.

Story continues below advertisement

His return poses a conundrum for the Kremlin: jail him and risk protests and punitive Western action by turning him into a political martyr. Or do nothing and risk looking weak in the eyes of Kremlin hardliners.

Navalny, 44, is expected to fly from Berlin, where he was flown in August for emergency medical treatment after being poisoned with what German tests showed was a Novichok nerve agent, and to arrive in Moscow on Sunday at 1620 GMT.

The opposition politician, who says he has nearly fully recovered, says Putin was behind his poisoning. The Kremlin denies involvement, says it has seen no evidence that he was poisoned, and that he is free to return to Russia.

Navalny makes first video appearance since coma, alleges Putin ordered his poisoning – Oct 6, 2020

Navalny says the Kremlin is afraid of him. The Kremlin, which only refers to him as the “Berlin patient,” laughs that off. Putin allies point to opinion polls that show the Russian leader is far more popular than Navalny, whom they call a blogger rather than a politician.

Story continues below advertisement

SUPPORTERS PLAN TO GREET NAVALNY

Navalny has said he will take a flight operated by Russian airline Pobeda, owned by state-controlled Aeroflot.

His supporters plan to meet him at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport despite a forecast of bitterly cold minus 17 Celsius (1 Fahrenheit) weather and over 4,500 new coronavirus cases a day in the Russian capital.

So far, at least 2,000 people have used a Facebook page to say they plan to be there, with another 6,000 expressing an interest. Pro-Kremlin activists are also expected to turn up.

Read more: Putin critic Navalny says German chancellor visited him in hospital after poisoning

The Moscow prosecutor’s office, which says it has officially warned 15 pro-Navalny organizers, has said the event is illegal because it is not sanctioned by the authorities. That means that people who turn up could be detained, fined or jailed.

Citing COVID-19 restrictions, the airport has said it will not allow media inside.

A Moscow court on Saturday ordered a Navalny ally, Pavel Zelensky, to be held in pre-trial detention on extremism charges which he denies.

U.K., U.S. call on Russia to answer for poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny – Sep 16, 2020

On the eve of his return, Navalny took to Facebook to thank Germans for what he described as their stereotype-breaking friendly hospitality in the last five months.

Story continues below advertisement

“Thank you friends!,” he wrote in German.

(Reporting by Andrew Osborn Editing by Frances Kerry)

Football news:

Gattuso was fined 3 thousand euros for blasphemy
Burnley will ask for 50 million pounds for Pope. The goalkeeper is Interesting to Tottenham
Gladbach midfielder Neuhaus would like to move to Liverpool, his compensation is 40 million euros. Bayern are unlikely to fight for a player
Sampaoli took charge of Marseille. Contract - until 2023
Carlos Bianchi: PSG can score 5-6 goals for Barca in the second leg of the Champions League
Director of Shakhtar Srna about Roma in the 1/8 finals of the Europa League: Chances 50-50
Eintracht's forward Silva scored his 19th Bundesliga goal. Lewandowski has 26 goals, Holand has 17