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Detention Of Kremlin Critic Navalny Sparks Immediate Criticism Of Moscow By West

Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny is seen in a Pobeda plane after it landed at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport on January 17.
Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny is seen in a Pobeda plane after it landed at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport on January 17.

The detention of Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny by law enforcement as he arrived in Moscow following his return from Germany after recovering from being poisoned has sparked immediate outrage and criticism of the Kremlin.

Navalny arrived in the evening on January 17 in Moscow from Germany, where he was being treated after being poisoned in Russia last August, and was promptly detained by law enforcement authorities at the airport.

Anger over the move came almost as quickly.

European Council President Charles Michel called the apprehension of the 44-year-old Kremlin critic "unacceptable" and demanded his immediate release.

"The detainment of Alexei Navalny upon arrival in Moscow is unacceptable," Michel, who coordinates EU governments in Brussels, said in a tweet. "I call on Russian authorities to immediately release him."

Navalny, who Amnesty International called on January 17 a “prisoner of conscience,” was poisoned last summer by what tests at Western laboratories showed was a Novichok nerve agent. He was flown to Germany for emergency medical care after being poisoned in Siberia.

Navalny, who has been jailed numerous times in Russia for organizing and leading anti-government protests, blames the poisoning on the Russian authorities. Moscow denies any involvement.

The poisoning, which was similar to the near-fatal attack on Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in 2018 in the English city of Salisbury, drew wide international attention, as did Navalny's planned return after Russia's prison authority warned that Navalny could be jailed for 3 1/2 years for allegedly flouting the terms of a suspended prison sentence.

In a joint statement upon the news of Navalny's detention, the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia -- all former Soviet republics -- issued a call for the "imposition of restrictive measures" against Moscow.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis added in a tweet that the detention of Navalny “by the Russian authorities is completely unacceptable. We demand his immediate release."

"[The] EU should act swiftly and if he is not released, we need to consider imposition of restrictive measures in response to this blatant act,” he added.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki also called on Twitter for "a swift and unequivocal response at the EU level" if Navalny is not released.

In the United States, the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden also called for Navalny's immediate release and that "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 heard," Jake Sullivan, Biden's incoming national-security adviser, said in a tweet.

With reporting by Current Time and RFE/RL’s Russian Service
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