Police detain Navalny soon after he lands in Russia
MOSCOW (RUSSIA) – Thousands of supporters of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny waited to welcome him at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport as the Pobeda flight DP936 in which he was travelling home from Germany was a few minutes into its descent. Suddenly, the flight captain said he could not land as planned citing “technical difficulties”.
He said the aircraft would make its way to Sheremetyevo airport “where the weather is great!”
It was the first indication to those on board the flight that Navalny’s return to Russia after his treatment in Berlin was not going to be smooth. Navalny had to be airlifted to the German capital after he was poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent Novichok in August last year.
Holding his wife Yulia’s hand in silence, Navalny stared out of the aircraft window onto a dark, snow-laden tarmac where there were a few airport workers sporting fluorescent vests.
His lawyer was also on board and said she was unaware whether the Kremlin’s most vocal critic would be detained.
Navalny, 44, is accused of violating the terms of a suspended sentence for embezzlement in a case that he says was framed. In fact, he could be jailed for 3-1/2 years if found guilty.
With an energetic gait, he made his way to Terminal D and stopped in front of a glowing, wall-sized panel depicting the Kremlin and the national flag.
While speaking to media persons, he thanked the medical team in Germany who treated him for the effects of the toxin.
“This is my home,” he said. “I’m not afraid.”
However, at border control, things became murkier.
While he was standing in the corridor of the glass-panelled control booth, the critic was approached by an official who asked him to step away to explain the circumstances of his entry.
Although his wife and lawyer stood nearby, they were separated from Navalny by the metal passport control gate. Despite his lawyer asking on what grounds he was prevented from entering, the officials did not give an answer.
Four police officers wearing black face masks came to the booth and asked the critic to accompany them.
“Are you detaining me?” Navalny asked. “You’re detaining me,” he said, repeatedly, making it clear that he wanted his lawyer to come with him.
This continued for a few minutes until Navalny turned back to his wife.
The couple embraced from either side of the passport gate before Navalny turned around to go with the cops.
His lawyer, wife and his press secretary went towards baggage reclaim and sat down. Yulia appeared composed. She asked the waiting journalists to give her time to gather her thoughts.
As she walked into the arrival lounge, she was met by supporters who applauded and changed “Yulia! Yulia!” and “Russia will be free!” One of them gave her a bouquet and some could be seen standing on the balconies above.
Yulia was met by her brother-in-law Oleg, who had to spend three-and-a-half years in prison for the same crime that his brother was convicted of.
Outside the airport, braving the icy weather, Yulia Navalnaya said: “Alexei said today that he is not afraid. I am not afraid either. And I call upon you all not to be afraid.”
Then she left, and the crowd gradually dispersed.