MOSCOW – Alexei A. Navalny, Russia’s opposition leader who has been in Germany for months recovering from an attack by a Russian government on what the Russian authorities say was carried out by the Russian state, said on Wednesday that he would return to Russia this weekend. despite the threat of closure on arrival.
Mr Navalny said in social media posts that he had bought a ticket for a flight to Moscow this Sunday. His announcement that he would return came just two days after Russian prison authorities filed a lawsuit to imprison Mr Navalny for what he said violated the terms of an earlier suspended sentence.
Mr Navalny was poisoned by a military nerve agent in Siberia in August, which he and Western authorities said was an assassination attempt by the Russian government. He fell into a coma and was taken to Berlin for treatment.
On Wednesday, he said he now believed it was good enough to return to Russia. He said he planned to travel with the low-cost airline Pobeda and would arrive in Moscow on Sunday.
“Let’s meet!” He said.
A few days after recovering from a medical coma at the Charité Hospital in Berlin in September, Mr Navalny promised to return to Russia. But his surprise announcement Wednesday of the time of his return shook Russian policy – setting a high-stakes decision for the Kremlin on how to react.
Last month, working with the open source investigative organization Bellingcat, Mr Navalny released two videos on YouTube documenting a complex plot by Russia’s domestic intelligence service, the FSB, to kill him. The videos have been viewed a total of 45 million times.
At the same time, the Kremlin has stepped up pressure on Mr Navalny, signaling that he will end up in prison if he returns to Russia. President Vladimir Putin described Mr Navalny as an asset to the CIA and said that if Russian agents wanted to kill the opposition leader, “they would probably get the job done”.
But imprisoning the opposition leader would pose risks to the Kremlin, as the move could provoke protests, and by announcing his recent return, Mr Navalny appears to be bluffing Mr Putin. Mr Navalny’s ally, Lyubov Sobol, was detained in Moscow for 48 hours in December, after which he was released.
“The Kremlin has gone so far in its betting game, sharply raising expectations that Navalny will be arrested, that his arrest will not be seen by conservatives and security officials as a sign of weakness,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, a non-resident scientist at the Moscow center Carnegie, says a publication in the Telegram. “They expected him not to return.”
Polls show Mr Navalny as Russia’s most prominent opposition figure – with an online audience of tens of millions, far beyond the liberal fortresses of Moscow and St. Petersburg – and mass protests in Russia’s Far East and Moscow over the past two years. public discontent.
“I ended up in Germany, arriving in the intensive care unit for one reason: they tried to kill me,” Mr Navalny wrote on Instagram. “Putin, after ordering my assassination, screamed in his bunker and ordered all his employees to do everything they could to prevent me from returning.”