Moscow, 17 January 2021 (dpa/MIA) — Leading Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, who blames the Kremlin for poisoning him in a failed assassination attempt last year, plans to return to Moscow later Sunday after spending five months recovering in Germany.
He said he is scheduled to take a flight with Russian airline Pobeda from Berlin, and is scheduled to land at the Russian capital’s Vnukovo airport at 7:20 pm (1620 GMT).
Russian authorities have signaled they plan to arrest Navalny, 44, immediately upon return to his home country, accusing him of breaking the terms of a suspended sentence and probation.
Security was tightened at Vnukovo airport in the hours before his arrival. Images posted on social media showed special forces and prisoner transport vehicles moving into position at the airport.
Navalny has called on his supporters to meet him there, despite the Moscow public prosecutor’s office warning against unauthorized rallies on the premises and the threat of consequences for those who go ahead and do so anyways.
On Sunday, some of his supporters reported they had been taken into “preventative” custody ahead of Navalny’s arrival.
In St Petersburg, the head of Navalny’s staff there, Irina Fatyanova, said she and two other activists were taken off a train to Moscow and detained by police for three hours. The authorities provided no reason for their actions.
Other activists said they were detained at Pulkovo Airport in St Petersburg or stopped in vehicles on the street.
Many journalists complained that airport authorities in Vnukovo had banned access to the airport, citing the coronavirus pandemic.
Russian media said Navalny would be accompanied on his flight by reporters and activists, some of whom had purchased tickets in order to personally witness the events unfold.
One of President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critics, Navalny fell violently ill on a Russian flight on Aug. 20. Two days later he was medically evacuated to Germany.
Navalny said he never considered staying outside Russia as he had never left his homeland of his own free will, and had “arrived in Germany in a resuscitation box.”
The Charite hospital in Berlin announced on Sept. 23 that Navalny had been discharged after his condition “improved sufficiently.”
Laboratories in Germany, France and Sweden have determined that Navalny was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok.
Navalny has blamed the poisoning on the FSB, the Russian secret service, under Putin’s orders.
Putin has dismissed the allegations. Russian officials initially refused to accept that he had been poisoned at all.
Russian authorities have increased the pressure on Navalny, revealing on Tuesday that he could face further jail time for violating the rules of his probation, arising from a conviction in 2014.
A legal application had been submitted to a Moscow court. Navalny maintains that the probation conditions became invalid on Dec. 30 and dismisses the new legal threats as politically motivated.
Navalny gained renown during a wave of protests from 2011 to 2013, fueled by contentious elections for Putin, the parliament, and the capital city’s mayor. Navalny came in second in Moscow’s 2013 mayoral race.
Navalny, who holds degrees in law and finance, initially gained popularity as a blogger exposing evidence of corruption, including the luxurious assets of high-ranking officials whose official salaries were incomparably modest.
He is married with two children.