Alexei Navalny: EU and US demand release of poisoned Putin critic

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The United States and several European governments have demanded the release of opposition politician Alexei Navalny from Russian detention.

Mr Navalny, 44, was detained by police soon after his flight from Germany landed in Moscow on Sunday.

He was returning to the country five months after he was almost killed in a nerve-agent attack he blamed on Russian authorities. Moscow denied any role.

Russia’s foreign minister has dismissed the international condemnation.

Sergei Lavrov said Western politicians were using it as a way to “divert attention” from domestic problems.

Alexei Navalny – The basics

  • Mr Navalny is an anti-corruption campaigner and the most prominent face of Russian opposition to President Vladimir Putin, whose party he says is full of “crooks and thieves”
  • He attempted to stand in the 2018 presidential race, but was barred because of an embezzlement conviction that he says was politically motivated
  • An outspoken blogger, he has millions of Russian followers on social media and managed to get some supporters elected to local councils in Siberia in 2020

Russia’s prison service on Sunday said the Kremlin critic had violated the terms of his suspended sentence for embezzlement. Officials said he would remain in custody until a court ruling.

Lawyers for Mr Navalny say they have not been granted access to him.

What has the international reaction been?

The US and European Union have led calls for Mr Navalny to be freed, but have stopped short of threatening any punitive action.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Russian authorities were trying to silence their critics. He called for Mr Navalny’s “immediate and unconditional release”.

“Confident political leaders do not fear competing voices, nor commit violence against or wrongfully detain political opponents,” Mr Pompeo said.

US President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming national security adviser stuck a similar tone: “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 said.

The response from the EU was equally strong, with France, Italy and the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, among those issuing demands for his release.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas described the arrest as “totally incomprehensible”.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Mr Navalny’s arrest was “appalling” and called for his immediate release.

“Rather than persecuting Mr Navalny, Russia should explain how a chemical weapon came to be used on Russian soil,” he said.

BBC

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