MOSCOW — Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny, who was detained by law enforcement authorities at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport after returning from Germany, has been taken to a police station near the airport, two of his allies said on Twitter.
Ivan Zhdanov, director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), and Navalny’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, early on January 18 said he is at the Department of Internal Affairs in the town of Khimki. Yarmysh added that authorities continue to refuse to let him see his lawyer.
Police led the 44-year-old Kremlin critic away on January 17 at the airport’s passport control booth.
His lawyer, who was traveling with him, was not allowed to accompany him. He embraced his wife, Yulia Navalnaya, before being escorted away. She was then allowed to pass through passport control and was greeted by a crowd of people who applauded and called her name.
Russia’s prison authority, FSIN, confirmed Navalny’s detention. The FSIN statement said Navalny was being held because of “multiple violations” of the conditions of his suspended sentence relating to a 2014 fraud conviction and of evading criminal inspectors.
The statement said Navalny would be held “until a court ruling” on the matter. He could be jailed for 3.5 years for allegedly flouting the terms of the suspended prison sentence.
“Everything that is happening now is against the law,” his lawyer, Olga Mikhailov, told AFP at the airport.
Police detained Navalny less than an hour after he arrived from Germany, where he had been recovering from a poisoning that he says was ordered by President Vladimir Putin.
The United States, European Union, Canada, a senior aide to U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, and human rights groups quickly condemned Navalny’s detention and called for his release.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States “strongly condemns” Russia’s decision to detain Navalny.
“We note with grave concern that his detention is the latest in a series of attempts to silence Navalny and other opposition figures and independent voices who are critical of Russian authorities,” Pompeo said in a statement.
EU members Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania issued a joint statement calling for the “imposition of restrictive measures” against Russia over Navalny’s detention, which they called “completely unacceptable.”
Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who has been leading protests against strongman leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka since a disputed presidential election in August, wrote on Twitter that Navalny’s detention was “a dangerous step to depriving Russia of political alternatives.”
“Belarus has seen the outcome of such treatment of political opponents,” she wrote. “This does not serve the interests of the Russian people and of the country.”
Shortly before he was detained, Navalny told journalists at Sheremetyevo he was “happy” to be back in Russia and said he did not fear being arrested.
“I am not afraid…because I know that I’m in the right, I know that the criminal cases against me are fabricated,” Navalny said.
Navalny was flown to Germany in August for emergency medical care after the poisoning.
Laboratory tests conducted in Germany, France, and Sweden established that Navalny was poisoned with a nerve agent of the Soviet-style Novichok class, a conclusion confirmed by the international Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
The Kremlin has denied any involvement and has refused calls to investigate.
Navalny had been scheduled to arrive at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport, where hundreds of his supporters had gathered amid a massive riot police presence.
At the last minute, however, authorities closed Vnukovo to incoming flights and diverted Navalny’s plane to Sheremetyevo airport on the other side of the capital.
Police detained numerous people who were waiting for Navalny’s arrival at Vnukovo, including Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer for Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation; Ruslan Shaveddinov, a project manager for the foundation; and Novaya Gazeta journalist Vlad Dokshin. Other journalists were also reportedly among the detained.
Sobol and others later said they were released and were facing administrative charges.