Kremlin critic Navalny calls for protests as Russia jails him on return home

Ireland joins EU and US in decrying arrest and calling for investigation into poisoning

Russian police detained prominent Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on his arrival in Moscow after he flew home from Germany for the first time since he was poisoned in August 2020. Video: Reuters


Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has urged Russians to launch street protests against the country’s rulers, after he was jailed for 30 days on his arrival home from Germany following months of recuperation from a near-fatal poisoning in Siberia.

“Don’t be afraid – go out on to the streets. Go out not for me but for yourselves, for your future,” Mr Navalny said in a brief video on Monday, as the US and European states including Ireland denounced Russia’s treatment of the anti-corruption campaigner.

“I am calling on you not to be silent – resist, go out on to the streets. No one will protect us but ourselves. There are so many of us that, if we want to achieve something, we will achieve it,” he added, prompting his team to announce plans for nationwide rallies on Saturday.

Mr Navalny blames Russian president Vladimir Putin for the nerve agent attack he suffered last August, and for Monday’s hearing in a makeshift courtroom that was set up in the police station where he spent Sunday night after being detained at a Moscow airport.

The Kremlin denies involvement in the poisoning and insists that Mr Navalny is being treated in accordance with Russian law, but several EU members said Mr Putin’s regime could face new sanctions over the case.

“Why is a hearing taking place in a police station? Why wasn’t anyone notified, why was no summons issued?” Mr Navalny (44) asked during the impromptu hearing, while complaining that he had been given no time to consult with his lawyers.

“I’ve seen many mockeries of justice, but evidently the old man in the bunker is so scared of everything that he flagrantly just ripped up the criminal code and threw it in on the rubbish heap,” he said in reference to Mr Putin (68). “What’s happening here is impossible. It’s the highest form of lawlessness.”

The judge ordered Mr Navalny to be held in custody until February 15th, on foot of a complaint by the Moscow prison service that he broke the terms of a suspended sentence by failing to report to a Russian police station in recent months.

Nerve agent

A separate hearing was scheduled for January 29th, to determine whether the 3½-year suspended term he received for fraud in 2014 should be converted into jail time. Mr Navalny says that embezzlement case, and others targeting him and his anti-corruption foundation, are trumped-up attacks by Kremlin loyalists.

He fell gravely ill on a flight from Siberia to Moscow in August, and after days of pressure from his family and western capitals, Russia allowed him to be evacuated to Berlin, where he came out of a coma and spent months convalescing.

Labs in Germany, France, Sweden and at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons found his blood was tainted by a Novichok nerve agent, which the Soviet Union produced and Russia claimed to have destroyed several years ago.

While Russia refused to examine the incident, the Bellingcat investigative group published compelling evidence that Mr Navalny was poisoned by the Russian security service, and he succeeded in duping one of its officers into divulging details of the attack and subsequent clean-up operation during a recorded phone call.

“I condemn the detention of Alexei Navalny by the Russian authorities. They must immediately release him and ensure his safety,” said European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

Minister for foreign affairs Simon Coveney also urged Moscow to free Mr Navalny and “carry out a transparent investigation into the poisoning ... in full co-operation with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons”.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed the criticism as an attempt by “western politicians to distract attention from the extremely deep crisis facing the liberal model of development”.