Alexei Navalny took off on a plane bound for Russia, to return home for the first time since he was poisoned last summer, despite Russian authorities’ stated desire to arrest him and potentially jail him for years. This is reported by Reuters.
“This is the best moment in the last five months,” he told reporters after he boarded the plane in the German capital, bound for Moscow. “I feel great. Finally, I’m returning to my home town.”
He announced his decision to return from Germany on Wednesday, and a day later Moscow’s prison service said it would do everything to arrest him once he returned, accusing him of flouting the terms of a suspended prison sentence for embezzlement, a 2014 case he says was trumped up.
The activist, who boarded a plane in Berlin at the last minute from a car sitting on the tarmac, hence avoiding other passengers, said made light of the risk of being arrested.
He said he didn’t think he would be arrested, calling himself an innocent person.
“What do I need to be afraid of? What bad thing can happen to me in Russia?” he added. “I feel like a citizen of Russia who has every right to return,” he added.
He was accompanied by his wife Yulia, and his spokeswoman.
Navalny took a flight operated by Russian airline Pobeda, owned by state-controlled Aeroflot.
His supporters plan to meet him at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport despite a forecast of bitterly cold minus 20 Celsius weather and over 4,500 new coronavirus cases a day in the Russian capital.
So far, at least 2,000 people have used a Facebook page to say they plan to be there, with another 6,000 expressing an interest. Pro-Kremlin activists are also expected to turn up.
The Moscow prosecutor’s office, which says it has officially warned 15 pro-Navalny organisers, has said the event is illegal because it is not sanctioned by the authorities. That means that people who turn up could be detained, fined or jailed.
Reuters reporters saw a heavy police presence at the airport with dozens of police trucks.