Russian dissident Navalny arrested at Moscow airport

US, EU leaders condemn the detention

Russian dissident Alexei Navalny has been detained at Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow, according to a post on Navalny's Telegram channel. He was detained while going through passport control, according to the post.

His aide Ilya Yashin shared a video of the confrontation, during which Navalny is heard asking for his lawyer to be given access to him. The police denied the request, according to Yashin.

After being detained at the airport, Navalny was taken to a nearby police station, his allies said on Twitter.

Navalny's wife, Yulia Navalnaya, said that the authorities was scared of her husband and were showing that by disrupting flights and detained a large number of people "just over a man who is returning to his motherland."

"The most important thing Alexey said tonight is that he’s not afraid. I’m not afraid either. And I call on you all not to be afraid," she told reporters before leaving Sheremetyevo.

Navalny's plane from Berlin was originally due to land at Vnukovo airport on Sunday evening but diverted to Sheremetyevo at the last minute. Russian authorities previously said they planned to arrest Navalny, 44, immediately upon return to his home country, accusing him of breaking the terms of a suspended sentence and probation.

In response, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the Russian opposition leader's detention upon arrival at a Moscow airport is an attempt to silence him and other critical voices in Russia.

"The United States strongly condemns Russia’s decision to arrest Aleksey 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.

"We urge the Russian government to provide a level playing field for all political parties and candidates seeking to compete in the electoral process," the secretary of state added as he called for Navalny's "unconditional release."

Pompeo's statement came hours after a call for Navalny's release by the team of US President-elect Joe Biden, as well.

"Mr. Navalny should be immediately released, and the perpetrators of the outrageous attack on his life must be held accountable," said Jake Sullivan, who will serve as Biden's national security adviser if confirmed by the Senate.

"The Kremlin's attacks on Mr. Navalny are not just a violation of human rights, but an affront to the Russian people who want their voices heard."

The French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs also said it was following the situation "with the utmost vigilance" as it called for Navalny's release. European Council President Charles Michel and EU's foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell earlier also condemned the dissident's arrest and called for his release.

"The detainment of Alexey #Navalny upon arrival in Moscow is unacceptable," Michel tweeted.

"Russian authorities must respect Alexei @navalny's rights and release him immediately," wrote Borrell. "Politicisation of the judiciary is unacceptable."

The EU officials' words were echoed by Baltic countries Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in a joint statement late on Sunday.

"Detaining Alexei Navalny by the Russian authorities is completely unacceptable. We demand his immediate release," the statement by the three countries' foreign ministers said, as they also called on the EU to "act swiftly and if he is not released, we need to consider imposition of restrictive measures in response to this blatant act."

Amnesty International called said that the arrest is "further evidence that Russian authorities are seeking to silence him." 

"His detention only highlights the need to investigate his allegations that he was poisoned by state agents acting on orders from the highest levels," said Amnesty International's Moscow office director Natalia Zviagina.

"The authorities handled Aleksei Navalny's arrival as a fully blown security operation with hundreds of police officers summoned to the Vnukovo Airport, arresting and pushing out Navalny's supporters," Zviagina said.

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