Moscow (dpa) – Five months after a poison attack, Kremlin opponent Alexei Navalny wants to return to Russia.
The 44-year-old announced on Twitter on Wednesday that he would land in Moscow on a plane from the Russian airline Pobeda. Pobeda in German means victory. In Russia, a debate arose as to whether leaving Germany would amount to a political victory or whether Navalny could soon end up in prison. In his home country, he faces criminal charges and imprisonment. He had called the head of the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin, a “murderer.”
Since August, Navalny has been in Siberia to heal in Germany after the murder attack with the neurotoxin Novitschok. He said he had not left Russia himself, referring to his coma at the time. “I arrived in Germany in a resuscitation box.” In a video distributed on Instagram, he praised Germany as a “great country”. He has repeatedly stressed that the political struggle against the “Putin system” can only continue in Russia itself.
In the autumn there will be parliamentary elections in Russia. Navalny wants to break the power monopoly of the Kremlin Party, United Russia. Several commentators and politicians in Moscow spoke of a bold move and a real ‘fighting spirit’ – but also a great risk of being immediately eliminated.
The Kremlin critic collapsed on a domestic flight to Moscow after the August 20 attack. After an emergency landing in Omsk, he was first treated by Russian doctors and then taken to the Berlin University Hospital Charité on August 22. After his release he stayed in Germany for rehabilitation.
Political scientist Tatiana Stanovaya said the Kremlin had already gone too far. The secret services and other security structures could interpret it as weakness if Navalny was not arrested. “You bet he wouldn’t come back.” Now the Kremlin has little choice. The whole situation is reminiscent of two trains racing towards each other. “There will be many casualties.”
Former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who himself spent many years in prison after criticizing Putin, warned of the danger of decades of imprisonment abroad. Human rights activists criticize the Russian legal system as not independent – and controlled by power interests. Navalny has also repeatedly won before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg with lawsuits against the Russian state.
For the attack with a chemical warfare agent of the Novichok group, he blames a “killer team” of the FSB’s internal intelligence service, who operated on Putin’s orders. The president said Navalny could have been killed if that had been the target. Putin repeatedly emphasized that he himself had approved the rescue flight from Navalny to Germany.
Moscow has been denying poisoning for months and speaks of a staging by Western intelligence services. The Russian authorities declined to open their own investigation due to lack of evidence. However, laboratories of the German armed forces as well as in France, Sweden and at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) found Novichok. Among other things, the EU imposed sanctions on senior Kremlin officials.
Navalny had also made a phone call to an alleged hitman who said the FSB agents had put the poison in his underpants so that it would slowly penetrate and kill his skin. Recently, Russian authorities have increased pressure on Navalny. It was only announced on Tuesday that prison authorities would like to put him in prison for allegedly failing to meet his probation requirement.
Shortly before the turn of the year, authorities asked Navalny to meet the demands of an earlier sentence and to report in person. The case concerns a 2014 conviction. Navalny wrote that the suspended sentence ended on December 30 – and the whole world knew he was being treated in Germany.
Investigations are also ongoing into alleged fraud. He is accused of using the equivalent of $ 3.9 million in his anti-corruption fund for “personal purposes”, along with other donations. Navalny denied the charges. His hitmen are upset because the assassination attempt failed. “You’re doing everything you can to scare me,” Navalny said in the video.
The airline Pobeda has a connection from Berlin’s capital BER to Moscow in its flight schedule for Sunday. According to this, the plane should land at Wnukowo Airport at 7:20 PM local time (5:20 PM CET). Navalny wrote about it: “Meet me!”. Hundreds of people organized themselves into groups on Facebook to receive and support him.
Deputy government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said on behalf of the federal government: “We are pleased that Mr Navalny in Germany has apparently recovered well from the poison attack against him in Russia.” He stayed in the municipality of Ibach in the Black Forest. “He walked a lot, he jogged a lot,” said Mayor Helmut Kaiser (CDU) Wednesday of the German news agency. In early December, Navalny left the community of 400 inhabitants.