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A year after his arrest, Navalny says ‘no regrets’ about returning to Russia

Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has said he does not “regret” returning to the country, a year after he was arrested at a Moscow airport.

The staunch Kremlin critic, who has spent the last 12 months in prison, was detained at Sheremetyevo Airport on 17 January, 2021, shortly after his flight arrived from Berlin.

Russia’s leading anti-government figure had received medical treatment in the German capital, following a suspected Kremlin-ordered poisoning in Siberia.

After making a full recovery, Mr Navalny decided to head home, despite knowing he would likely be imprisoned.

“I don’t regret it for a second,” he wrote on Instagram on Monday, exactly a year since his arrest.

Although he had not been able to take “a single step in my country as a free person”, Mr Navalny expressed his pride in standing up to the regime, in what he described as a “tug of war” between the “bravery and fear” of the Russian people.

“I tried as hard as I could to pull my end of the rope, pulling over to my side those who are honest and no longer afraid,” the 45-year-old said, calling on the rest of the Russian populace to set aside their fear and to challenge the status quo.

After Mr Navalny’s arrest last year, protests flared up in towns and cities throughout Russia, leading to a toigh response from the authorities.

As part of this ongoing crackdown on civil liberties, two allies of Mr Navalny – Leonid Volkov, 41, and Ivan Zhdanov, 33 – were recently added to a government watchlist usually reserved for terrorists. Both men had already fled the country, along with many other leading anti-government figures.

Speaking about the Kremlin’s move, Mr Zhdanov, who ran Mr Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, which was outlawed by the Kremlin last summer, said it “will not affect me and my life in any way”.

He tweeted that Moscow’s targeting of individuals would become more widespread, calling himself and Mr Volkov “pioneers for this kind of nonsense”.

Mr Navalny is currently serving a two-and-a half-year sentence for breaking a parole agreement linked to the trumped-up corruption charges brought against him in 2014. He was in hospital in Germany at the time of the alleged breach.

It appears that president Vladimir Putin, who has been in power as either president or prime minister since 1999, is keen to keep his opponent in detention for longer.

In September, Russia’s Investigative Committee, which looks into major crimes, named Mr Navalny as being suspected of founding and leading an extremist group. Such a crime carries a punishment of up to a decade in jail.

Referring to an upcoming trial, Mr Navalny said: “There’s another one next where I’m an extremist and a terrorist. I don’t know at all when my…journey will end or whether it will end at all.”

Moscow’s stifling of free speech ramped up in late December, when the Russian supreme court announced the closure of Memorial, the country’s best-known human rights organisation. The ruling was condemned by the UN and Western governments.


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