MOSCOW (RUSSIA) – Despite the imminent threat of arrest and potential imprisonment for years, Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny is due to fly back to Russia on Sunday for the first time since he was poisoned last summer.
Navalny, one of President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent domestic critics, announced his decision to return from Germany on Wednesday, saying he missed Moscow and was not interested in what he called new fabricated criminal cases against him.
A day later, the Russian capital’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.
Navalny, who is hoping for success in parliamentary elections in September, faces potential trouble in three other criminal cases too, all of which he says are politically motivated.
Navalny, 44, is expected to fly from Berlin, where he was flown in August for emergency medical treatment after being poisoned with what German tests showed was a Novichok nerve agent, and to arrive in Moscow on Sunday at 1620 GMT.
The opposition politician, who says he has nearly fully recovered, says Putin was behind his poisoning. The Kremlin denies involvement, says it has seen no evidence that he was poisoned, and that he is free to return to Russia.
Navalny says the Kremlin is afraid of him. The Kremlin, which only refers to him as the “Berlin patient,” laughs that off. Putin allies point to opinion polls that show the Russian leader is far more popular than Navalny, whom they call a blogger rather than a politician.