Moscow/Berlin, 22 January 2021 (dpa/MIA) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the European Union on Thursday reiterated calls for the release of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, who was arrested at a Moscow airport last week upon arrival from Germany.
“We believe this is absolutely right and also very urgent,” Merkel said in Berlin.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto also raised the question during a call he initiated with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
Niinisto discussed the “implications for relations between European countries and Russia” of Navalny’s ongoing detention, according to a statement from the Finnish leader’s office.
Imprisoning the Russian opposition leader on return to the country had been a “tough move,” Niinisto later told Finnish reporters, adding that he had not coordinated the call with European leaders beforehand.
Following a video summit, European Council President Charles Michel condemned Navalny’s detention and called for his rights to be fully respected.
“We call on Russia to release him immediately and ensure his safety,” Michel said.
“We expect Russia to urgently proceed with the independent and transparent investigation into his attack on his life and to fully cooperate with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to ensure an impartial international investigation,” Michel added.
The foreign ministers of the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania called for more pressure from the EU on Moscow to release Navalny.
“We consider it necessary to take additional decisive diplomatic measures,” Estonia’s Urmas Reinsalu, Latvia’s Edgars Rinkevics and Lithuania’s Gabrielius Landsbergis said in a joint letter to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell published this week.
Navalny, who returned from Germany where he had been recovering from an assassination attempt with the nerve agent Novichok, was sentenced to 30 days of pre-trial detention at a snap trial on Monday.
The Kremlin has rejected calls by European leaders demanding Navalny’s release over last few days.
“This is an internal matter of the Russian Federation, we do not allow interference in it,” government spokesperson Dmitri Peskov said earlier.
Navalny’s lawyers on Thursday filed a complaint against Monday’s snap trial, where he was sentenced for violating a parole from an earlier sentence by travelling to Germany for his recovery.
Navalny and his team criticized the judicial process as a politically motivated attempt to silence him.
Russia’s general prosecutor Igor Krassnov called Navalny a “criminal” and said he was not a “victim.”
Russian authorities have for months rejected launching a thorough investigation into the poisoning and have denied he was poisoned.
Meanwhile, the Russian attorney general on Thursday sent a new request for information to the German judiciary regarding the poisoning.
The authority said that most of the requests submitted by Russian investigators had been rejected by German authorities and that the transcripts of interviews with Navalny and his wife had not been included.
German judicial authorities say they have responded to four Russian requests for legal assistance relating to the attack against Navalny, but the prosecutor general and other Russian officials say the responses were inadequate and allege a cover-up.
Also on Thursday, the European Parliament called on the bloc’s leaders to slap Russia with even more sanctions.
Russian officials involved in Navalny’s imprisonment as well as members of Putin’s inner circle should be sanctioned, according to a resolution passed by a decisive majority of EU lawmakers.