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Russian Opposition Leader Alexei Navalny Decries Kremlin’s ‘Lawlessness’ after Being Detained

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaks with journalists upon arriving at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow, Russia, January 17, 2021. (Polina Ivanova/Reuters)

Russian security forces detained Alexei Navalny on Sunday immediately upon his return to Moscow, where he traveled after recovering in Germany from a near-fatal poisoning attack, and placed him before a judge Monday morning at a police station.

Navalny’s lawyers learned of the hearing just minutes before it began at a police station, instead of a normal courtroom, in the outskirts of Moscow. The judge allotted the attorneys just 30 minutes to familiarize themselves with the case and another 20 minutes to speak to their client.

“I’ve seen a lot of mockery of justice… But this is impossible what is happening now,” Navalny said in a video posted by his press secretary before the hearing. “It is the highest degree of lawlessness.”

Police asked the court for Navalny to be formally placed under arrest for 30 days, according to the director of Navalny’s foundation.

Navalny was already scheduled to appear at a January 29 hearing on charges that he had violated the parole terms of a previous suspended sentence by staying in Germany while undergoing treatment, the reason for which he was officially detained. He received the earlier suspended prison sentence and probation order in 2014 for embezzlement and money laundering, a case which the European Court of Human Rights in 2018 called politically motivated.

He has called the criminal cases against him “fabricated” and said the authorities’ intent is to deter him from returning.

Russian prosecutors opened a new criminal investigation into Navalny in December, accusing him of taking donations from his Anti-Corruption Foundation.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday called for the opposition leader’s  “immediate and unconditional release,” and said his detention was “the latest in a series of attempts to silence Navalny and other opposition figures.”

Jake Sullivan, the incoming national security adviser for President-elect Joe Biden, also called for Navalny’s immediate release, tweeting that “the perpetrators of the outrageous attack on his life must be held accountable.”

Navalny nearly died over the summer after being poisoned by Novichok, a Soviet-era nerve agent. He had been on a flight to Moscow after meeting with supporters in Siberia when he fell ill.

The Russian dissident blames Russian President Vladimir Putin for the poisoning, though the Kremlin has denied having any involvement. 

Putin said last month that if Russian intelligence agents had sought to kill Navalny, “we would have finished the job.”

Meanwhile, western intelligence officials and scientists who helped develop the nerve agent say it can only be obtained through military and security circles.

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