Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his wife Yulia are seen at the passport control point of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport on January 17, 2021.
KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV | AFP | Getty Images
LONDON – The US and several European governments have expressed deep concern after the arrest of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and urged his immediate release from Russian custody.
Police arrested 44-year-old Navalny at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on Sunday, shortly after he flew from Berlin. Germany ended up in the country’s capital.
The activist, widely recognized as the most prominent and determined critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, returned home for the first time since being poisoned last summer.
Navalny had recovered in Germany after barely surviving what had since been confirmed as poisoning by a Novichok nerve agent in August. 20th
The opposition politician believes Putin ordered the poisoning and reportedly said last October that he saw no other explanation.
Putin’s government denies the poisoning of Navalny, though investigative reporters have since released evidence to support Navalny’s claims.
In response to Navalny’s arrest, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said via Twitter on Monday that he was “deeply concerned” by the developments and called for his immediate and unconditional release from custody.
“Confident political leaders do not fear competing voices, commit violence against or wrongly detain political opponents,” said Pompeo.
Separately, Jake Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan urged Navalny to be released immediately. Sullivan said, “The perpetrators of the outrageous attack on his life must be held accountable.”
“The Kremlin’s attacks on Mr Navalny are not just a violation of human rights, but an affront to the Russian people who want their voices to be heard,” he added.
“I’m going back to my hometown.”
Navalny had spoken on board the plane before take-off in Berlin and said he did not expect to be arrested on arrival in Russia.
His flight was supposed to land at Vnukovo Airport, where supporters and media had waited despite the bitter cold weather, but his route was reportedly diverted to Sheremetyevo Airport for “technical reasons”.
“I feel great. I’m finally returning to my hometown,” said Navalny on board the flight back to Moscow, according to a Reuters report. Navalny was accompanied on the flight by his wife Julia and his spokesman and lawyer.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his wife Yulia are seen on a Pobeda plane after it landed at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport on January 17, 2021.
KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV | AFP | Getty Images
When Navalny arrived in Moscow on Sunday evening, he last said goodbye to his wife at passport control before he was taken away by the Russian authorities.
“The arrest of Aleksei Navalny is further evidence that the Russian authorities are trying to silence him,” said Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow office director, in a statement on Sunday.
“His detention only underscores the need to investigate his allegations that he was poisoned by state agents acting on orders from the highest levels,” Zviagina said.
The Russian embassy in London did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
In Europe, several world leaders issued statements sharply criticizing Navalny’s arrest, but most stopped calling for punitive action.
European Council President Charles Michel described the arrest of Navalny on Sunday as “unacceptable” and called on the Russian authorities to “release him immediately”.
Crowds gather as they wait for the arrival of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny at Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow, Russia, on Sunday, January 17, 2021.
Andrey Rudakov | Bloomberg | Getty Images
The Foreign Ministries of the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Italy separately issued statements condemning Navalny’s arrest and demanding his immediate release.
Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said Monday via Twitter that Navalny must be released “immediately”, adding that others arrested on his arrival should also be released. “Russia should investigate the poisoning of Navalny and protect the opposition rights that belong to any democracy,” said Marin.
In a joint statement by the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, three former Soviet republics, the EU has been asked to consider “introducing restrictive measures in response to this apparent act” if Navalny is not released.
They described Navalny’s arrest as “totally unacceptable”.