Back when it was reported that Russian dissident Alexei Navalny had not only survived his attempted assassination by poisoning but planned to return to Russia after he recovered, I asked what seemed to be the obvious question. Navalny survived poisoning, but can he survive Vladimir Putin? We may be about to learn the answer to that riddle. Navalny flew back to Russia from Berlin yesterday after brushing off questions about whether or not he might be in danger upon his arrival. He probably suspected that something was amiss when the flight was suddenly diverted from its original destination to Sheremetyevo airport outside of Mocow. Upon arrival, the dissident was immediately taken into custody and transported to a Russian jail.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s arrest as he arrived in Moscow after recovering from his poisoning with a nerve agent drew criticism from Western nations and calls for his release, with Germany’s foreign minister on Monday calling it “incomprehensible.”
Navalny was detained at passport control at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport after flying in Sunday evening from Berlin, where he was treated following the poisoning in August that he blames on the Kremlin.
Navalny’s arrest adds another layer of tension to relations between Moscow and the West that have long been strained and were worsened by his poisoning.
As I was saying on social media yesterday, I give full credit to Alexei Navalny for having unbelievable brass cojones, but I’m not all that sure about how well his survival instincts are functioning. As he was boarding his flight in Berlin yesterday, a reporter asked him if he was worried about the possibility of being arrested upon his return to his home country.
“It’s impossible. I’m an innocent man,” he said.
Well, so much for that. Demonstrating just how rigged the system is against him, an impromptu courtroom was set up in the jail where Navalny is being held rather than having him moved to an official courthouse to stand before a judge. He was not granted access to see his attorneys. He’s supposedly being held on charges that he violated the conditions of his parole from a trumped-up 2014 conviction for embezzlement. The “violation” involved missing two appointments to check in with his parole officers. Of course, it was rather difficult to keep those appointments while fighting for his life in a German hospital after being poisoned through his underwear.
This is one of the few instances where we’re seeing nearly unanimous agreement among western nations and even across party lines here in the United States. Everyone is demanding that Navalny be released. I was unimpressed with the public effort President Trump made to condemn the original assassination attempt, but now Mike Pompeo has already issued a statement strongly condemning the arrest. Biden’s incoming National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan called for Navalny’s immediate release and for those who attempted to assassinate him to be held accountable. Foreign leaders from Germany to Poland and beyond have condemned Russia’s actions.
The real question now is whether Vladimir Putin really gives a hoot about all of the international condemnation raining down on his head. He had clearly already reached the end of his patience with Navalny last year when he decided to have him killed. (And does anyone honestly believe the KGB would have attempted the hit without Putin’s personal approval?) He’s looking to remove a thorn from his side and he’s taking one of the bluntest routes to that goal imaginable.
We can still hold out some hope for Navalny’s survival if not his release. But if we’re being candid here, nobody should be terribly shocked if he turns out to have some sort of “accident” in jail or simply disappears without a trace.