MOSCOW — Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was arrested Sunday at a Moscow airport as he tried to enter the country from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin.
Navalny’s detention at passport control in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport was widely expected because Russia’s prisons service said he had violated parole terms from a suspended sentence on a 2014 embezzlement conviction.
The prisons service said he would be held in custody until a court rules on his case. No date for a court appearance was immediately announced. The service earlier said that it would seek to have Navalny serve his three-and-a-half-year sentence behind bars.
Navalny, 44, who is President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent and determined foe, brushed off concerns about arrest as he boarded the plane in Berlin.
“It’s impossible. I’m an innocent man,” he said.
The arrest raises tensions in Russia as it approaches national parliament elections this year, in which Navalny’s organization is expected to be active in trying to defeat pro-Kremlin candidates. Navalny decided to leave Berlin of his own free will and wasn’t under any apparent pressure to leave from Germany.
Jake Sullivan, US President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for national security adviser called on Russian authorities to free Navalny.