Kremlin critic Navalny ready to return to Russia despite threats of arrest

Top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny says he plans to return to Russia next weekend despite authorities threatening to put him behind bars again.

Navalny, who has revived in Germany after a poisoning in August with a nerve agent he has blamed on the Kremlin, accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of now trying to deter him from coming home with new legal proposals. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied a role in the poisoning of the opposition leader.

“Putin is closing his feet and demanding that I do everything I can so that I do not return home,” Navalny said on Wednesday, announcing his return on Instagram. “The people who tried to kill me were insulted because I survived and now they are threatening to put me behind bars.”

He said he will fly home from Germany on Sunday.

In late December, the Federal Penitentiary Service warned Navalny that he could face a real prison sentence if he did not immediately report to its office in line with the terms of a suspended sentence he received for a 2014 verdict of embezzlement and money laundering. laundry which he rejected as politically motivated. The European Court of Human Rights had ruled that his conviction was illegal.

In a parallel move just before the New Year, Russia’s main investigative body also launched a new criminal case against Navalny on charges of large-scale fraud related to his alleged abuse of $ 5 million in private donations to its Anti-Corruption Foundation and other organizations. Navalny has also dismissed these allegations as grossly fabricated.

“They are doing everything to scare me,” Navalny said in his Instagram video. “The only thing left for Putin to do is put up a giant sign on top of the Kremlin and say ‘Alexei, please do not come home under any circumstances! “

German government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said Berlin had “noted” reports on Navalny’s plans, but did not answer a question about the possible risk he faces.

“I can only add that Mr Navalny is free to make his decision and that we are pleased that he has recovered from this attack on him,” said Maria Adebahr, a spokeswoman for the German Foreign Ministry.

Navalny fell into a coma when he boarded a domestic flight from Siberia to Moscow on August 20. He was transferred from a hospital in Siberia to a hospital in Berlin two days later.

Labs in Germany, France and Sweden, and tests by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, showed that he was exposed to a nerve agent from Novichok from the Soviet era.

Russian authorities insisted that the doctors who treated Navalny in Siberia before he was flown to Germany found no trace of poison and have challenged German officials to prove his poisoning. They refused to launch a full-fledged criminal investigation, citing the lack of evidence that Navalny was poisoned.

Last month, Navalny released the recording of a phone call in which he said he called a man he described as an alleged member of a group of officers at the Federal Security Service, or FSB, who allegedly poisoned him in August and then tried to cover it up.

The FSB dismissed the recording as false.