The United States and some European governments have pushed for the release of opposition politician, Alexei Navalny from detention in Moscow, Russia.
Navalny, a staunch critic of Putin’s government was detained by police soon after his flight from Germany landed in Moscow on Sunday.
Report has it that shortly before landing, the pilot announced that for “technical reasons,” the plane was being diverted from Vnukovo airport, where thousands of Navalny supporters had gathered, to Sheremetyevo airport, causing a stir among the passengers.
The activist was returning to the country five months after he was almost killed in a nerve-agent attack in Siberia which he blamed on Russian authorities supposedly sponsoring an undercover hit squad of state security against him last summer. But President Vladimir Putin’s government had denied complicity.
When Navalny was poisoned last August and collapsed on an internal flight in Siberia, he was flown to Germany for emergency medical treatment. As he recovered, he said he intended to return to Russia.
On Sunday he made good on that pledge, boarding a Pobeda Airlines flight in Berlin despite warnings he would face arrest on landing.
In a statement late on Sunday, Russia’s prison service said the opposition leader “had been wanted since 29 December 2020 for repeated violations of the probation period”. It added that he would remain in custody until a court decision.
The authorities accuse him of violating conditions imposed after a conviction for embezzlement, for which he received a suspended sentence. But he has always denied the charge saying the case was politically motivated
And reacting to his arrest, the US and EU led calls for Navalny, a prominent opposition voice and critic of President Putin to be freed.
The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, said the Russian authorities were trying to silence their critics. He called for Navalny’s “immediate and unconditional release,” noting that “Confident political leaders do not fear competing voices, nor commit violence against or wrongfully detain political opponents.”
The response from the European Union was no less derisive, with France, Italy and the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, issuing demands for his release.
In its statement, the UK government said it was “deeply concerned” by Navalny’s arrest, adding: “Instead of persecuting the victim of this terrible crime, the Russian authorities should investigate how a chemical weapon came to be used on Russian soil.”