Opposition leader Alexei Navalni faces 3.5 years in prison after being detained on his return to Russia on Sunday, 150 days after leaving the country in a coma due to poisoning he attributes to Vladimir’s government Putin.
Defiantly, he called for street protests against the Kremlin in a video posted to his YouTube channel before receiving a provisional sentence, cast in 15 minutes in a Moscow court because he allegedly violated the conditional suspension conditions of ‘a conviction for fraud.
He will be jailed for up to 30 days, but on February 2 there will be a new hearing during which the 2014 sentence could be reactivated, according to his lawyers posted on social media.
“This old thief [Putin], hiding in a bunker, sits down and trembles in fear. They are afraid and therefore they do everything urgently, in secret, in a hurry. They are afraid and they are afraid of you, ”he said.
“Don’t be afraid to take to the streets. Not for me, but for you and your future,” he added. The Anti-Corruption Fund, an NGO activist and blogger, called for the resumption of Saturday’s acts against the government – which rocked major Russian cities in 2017 and 2019.
Navalni was arrested upon landing in Moscow on Sunday evening (late in Brasilia). His Berlin flight was hijacked from the airport, in an undisguised attempt to avoid crowds in his favor.
The initial arrival airfield, Vnukovo, was occupied by security forces and 53 people were eventually arrested. In Sheremetyevo, where he finally landed, Navalni did not pass the passport control counter.
His lawyers complained that he was denied access to the activist for 15 hours, as did his fiancee, Iulia.
Navalni was in Germany after recovering from poisoning for what doctors said was a dose of Novichok (novice, in Russian), a deadly high-concentration neurotoxin traditionally used by the Soviet and Russian secret services.
The Kremlin denies any involvement in the episode, and analysts point out that the actions of local politicians unhappy with Navalni may be the cause of the episode. Navalni was in Tomsk (Siberia) to help develop files of complaints against Putin’s party candidates in the region during the local elections in September.
In December, however, a CNN report identified a team from the FSB, Russia’s main secret service, which was monitoring Navalni.
The activist then said he managed to trick one of the spies into posing as his boss over the phone, and obtained details of his poisoning – Novichok was allegedly donned in his underwear when he got out of the hotel.
The story was considered fanciful by the FSB, but taken seriously outside the country. Navalni was in Germany and began to prepare for his return.
In December, the Federal Prison Service warned it should arrest the activist because his absence had hampered probation for a 2014 conviction, which Navalni said was falsified. He is also responding to another criminal case on the same charge.
Thus, his detention was predictable. Although he never garnered support as a presidential candidate, which he tried to fail in 2018, Navalni is betting on Russians’ boredom with the Putin era, which began in the end of 1999.
In September, there will be parliamentary elections, and he is ready to lead a useful national voting process for any candidate more likely than the regime’s United Russia party. Apparently the Kremlin is unwilling to take risks.
Meanwhile, the West is doing what it has always done: repudiate. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on the penultimate day of his tenure, condemned the arrest and called for Navalni’s release. The government’s next national security adviser Joe Biden, Jake Sullivan, has followed suit.
The European Union was also moving in the same direction, with the ex-Soviet Baltics, Lithuania and Estonia, still fearful of the old masters of Moscow, calling for sanctions against the Kremlin.
Germany, which received and treated the then-dying Navalni last August, also condemned the arrest. But Angela Merkel’s spokesperson Steffen Seibert was realistic when asked if the episode should not be punished by ending construction of the NordStream 2 gas pipeline, a joint Berlin-Moscow project. .
The answer was a categorical no from “realpolitik”. About 40% of the gas that powers Europe’s largest economy comes from Russia, and doubling the product’s shipping capacity across the North Sea, under which NordStream 1 already operates, is a priority for Merkel and a billionaire investment from the companies. European. .