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Kremlin rejects demands to release Russian opposition leader Navalny

The Kremlin on Tuesday firmly rejected calls by a number of foreign governments to release Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who has been detained on his return to the country.

Moscow, 19 January 2021 (dpa/MIA) – The Kremlin on Tuesday firmly rejected calls by a number of foreign governments to release Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who has been detained on his return to the country.

“This is an internal matter of the Russian Federation, we do not allow interference in it,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov in comments carried by the Interfax news agency.

The spokesman stressed there were reasons for Navalny’s arrest on arrival in Moscow on Sunday. The dissident is alleged to have violated probation requirements from a previous criminal case.

Peskov further described as “nonsense” Navalny’s accusations that Putin had the opposition leader locked up because he was “afraid” of him.

There was no particular reason for Putin to intervene in Navalny’s case, he said, adding that the Kremlin was also not afraid of Navalny’s call for street protests against Putin.

Demonstrations have not been allowed in Russia for months during the coronavirus pandemic.

The comments come after it emerged that Navalny had apparently been detained in an infamous detention centre in Moscow.

Navalny was taken to the Matrosskaya Tishina (Sailor’s Silence) detention centre on Monday evening, a spokesman for the Public Monitoring Commission rights group wrote in his Telegram channel.

The prison is known for a series of unexplained deaths, including that of the lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in 2009.

Russian authorities have not commented on the whereabouts of the 44-year-old opposition member, who was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on Sunday evening immediately after his arrival.

According to the commission spokesperson, Navalny is doing relatively well in detention. He is “happy to be back home” and the prison guards have so far exerted “no moral or physical pressure” on him.

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 controversial snap trial on Monday.

Navalny and his team criticized the judicial process as a politically motivated attempt to silence him.

The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania on Tuesday called for more EU pressure on Moscow to release Navalny.

“We do consider it is necessary to take additional firm diplomatic measures to increase pressure upon official Russian authorities that would facilitate the release of Mr Navalny,” read a joint letter to the EU’s foreign affairs representative Josep Borrell by the three Baltic foreign ministers published on Tuesday.

Possible steps should be discussed at the upcoming meeting of EU foreign ministers next week, the three ministers of the EU and NATO countries bordering Russia wrote.

According to Estonia’s Urmas Reinsalu, Latvia’s Edgars Rinkevics and Lithuania’s Gabrielius Landsbergis, this would include the possible introduction of further sanctions against Russia.

In the joint letter, the Baltic foreign ministers also suggested Borrell consider postponing his visit to Moscow, planned for early February, if the Russian authorities continue to violate Navalny’s right to freedom and security.

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