Kremlin critic Navalny vows to return to Russia on Sunday
MOSCOW — Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny said Wednesday he plans to return to the country this weekend from Germany, where he has been recovering from a poisoning attack, despite facing a threat of jail.
The 44-year-old Kremlin critic said he had booked a flight that will arrive in Moscow on Sunday.
“It was not my choice to come to Germany… I ended up here because they tried to kill me,” the anti-graft campaigner said in a video posted on his Instagram account.
Navalny said that he is “almost healthy” after the poisoning and can continue recovering at home, in Russia.
Allies said Navalny will arrive on a Pobeda Airlines flight landing at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport on Sunday at 7:20 p.m. local time (1620 GMT).
“Come meet me,” Navalny said in the video.
Navalny has been in Germany since late August after he fell violently ill on a flight from Siberia to Moscow and was hospitalized in the city of Omsk. He was then flown out to Berlin in an induced coma.
Western experts concluded that Navalny was poisoned using the Soviet-designed nerve agent Novichok, the same chemical said to be used in the attempted murder of former spy Sergei Skripal in the English town of Salisbury in 2018.
Navalny insists the attack was carried out by Russia’s main security agency, the Federal Security Service (FSB), on the orders of President Vladimir Putin.
Threat of jail time
“They are doing everything to scare me and all Putin has left to do is hang up a poster over the Kremlin saying ‘Alexei, please, do not come home under any circumstances’,” Navalny said.
On Monday, papers were filed with a Moscow court asking for a 2014 suspended sentence Navalny received to be converted into jail time.
Russia’s prison authorities have accused Navalny of breaking the terms of his probation by remaining abroad after he was discharged from hospital in Berlin in September.
Russian investigators in December also launched a criminal probe into Navalny’s alleged use of more than $4 million of donations to his organizations for personal purposes.
The Kremlin denies Navalny’s claims he was poisoned by authorities, but the European Union has imposed entry bans and bank account freezes on several officials, including the head of the FSB.
Russia introduced tit-for-tat sanctions on EU officials, further increasing tensions between Moscow and its Western neighbors.
Speaking at his annual marathon press conference last month, Putin said that if Russia’s special services had wanted to poison Navalny “they would have taken it to the end.”
Navalny rose to prominence a decade ago and has since become a central figure of Russian’s protest movement and the country’s main anti-corruption campaigner.
His team publishes investigations into the wealth of Russia’s political elite on a YouTube channel with more than four million subscribers, making him a target of lawsuits that he says are fabricated.
Both Navalny and his allies have served numerous short-term jail sentences, while police raids are frequently carried out on his offices across the country.
Navalny and his allies have accused the Kremlin of trying to block his return as the ruling United Russia party looks to maintain its majority in September elections to the lower house State Duma.
Russian authorities have not launched a criminal probe into the poisoning, citing a lack of evidence.
Late last year, investigative website Bellingcat together with several publications published a joint report saying chemical weapons experts followed Navalny for years, including on the day of his poisoning.
Using phone logs and flight records, the report revealed the names and photos of these men, although they did not establish any direct contact between them and Navalny.
Several days later Navalny published a video in which he says he calls one of the FSB agents identified by Bellingcat and tricks him into a confession of the poisoning attack by pretending to be one of his superiors.
The video has since garnered over 22 million views on YouTube.
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