"Are you detaining me?" Navalny flies home, and straight into trouble

By Polina Ivanova MOSCOW (Reuters) - Pobeda flight DP936 was a few minutes into its descent towards Moscow's Vnukovo airport, where thousands of supporters of poisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny were waiting to meet him on his return to Russia, when the flight captain said he could not land as planned. There were 'technical difficulties', he said, before adding, audibly amused: 'Instead we will calmly make our way to Sheremetyevo airport ...

Reuters January 18, 2021 04:10:20 IST
"Are you detaining me?" Navalny flies home, and straight into trouble

quotAre you detaining mequot Navalny flies home and straight into trouble

By Polina Ivanova

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Pobeda flight DP936 was a few minutes into its descent towards Moscow's Vnukovo airport, where thousands of supporters of poisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny were waiting to meet him on his return to Russia, when the flight captain said he could not land as planned.

There were "technical difficulties", he said, before adding, audibly amused: "Instead we will calmly make our way to Sheremetyevo airport ... where the weather is great!"

It was the first sign to those on board that Navalny's return from Berlin, where he had been treated since August after being attacked in Russia with the military-grade nerve agent Novichok, was not going smoothly.

After landing, he sat in the plane, looking out of the window onto a dark, snow-covered runaway and a handful of airport workers in fluorescent vests, holding his wife Yulia's hand in silence.

His lawyer, also on board, had said she did not know whether the Kremlin's most vocal and effective critic would be arrested.

The 44-year-old is accused of flouting the terms of a suspended sentence for embezzlement in a case that he says was trumped up but could see him jailed for 3-1/2 years.

He entered Terminal D with an energetic step. Stopping in front of a glowing, wall-sized panel showing the Kremlin and the Russian flag, he said he had never considered not returning.

Speaking to reporters, he thanked the nurses and doctors in Germany who had treated him for the effects of the toxin, from a family originally developed by the Soviet military.

But he said that this was, nevertheless, his best day of the past five months.

"This is my home," he said. "I'm not afraid."

'YOU'RE DETAINING ME'

Then, at border control, things took a turn for the worse.

Standing in the narrow corridor of the glass-panelled passport control booth, Navalny was approached by an official who asked him to step away to "clarify the circumstances" of his entry.

His wife and lawyer stood right by, but were already separated from him by the metal passport control gate. His lawyer asked on what grounds he was being prevented from entering, but did not receive a clear response.

Four police officers in black face masks came up to the booth and also demanded Navalny come with them.

"Are you detaining me?" Navalny asked. "You're detaining me," he said, repeatedly. In that case, he said, he would like his lawyer to join him.

The back-and-forth continued for around three minutes, until Navalny turned back to his wife.

Standing either side of the passport gate, the couple embraced, before Navalny turned around to head away with the police.

His wife, his lawyer and his press secretary headed towards baggage reclaim and sat down, Yulia looking calm. She asked the journalists present to give her time to gather her thoughts.

Then she walked out into the arrivals hall to be met by a rush of supporters who applauded and chanted: "Yulia! Yulia!" and "Russia will be free!". Some stood on the balconies above. One gave her a bouquet.

She was then met by Navalny's brother, Oleg, who spent three-and-a-half years in jail for the same crime that Alexei was convicted of.

Standing outside in the icy evening air, Yulia Navalnaya addressed the crowd: "Alexei said today that he is not afraid. I am not afraid either. And I call upon you all not to be afraid."

Then she left, and the crowd gradually dispersed.

Navalny himself, as far as anyone knew, remained in the airport's transit zone.

(Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Updated Date:

TAGS:

also read

France, Germany to agree to NATO role against Islamic State - sources
| Reuters
World

France, Germany to agree to NATO role against Islamic State - sources | Reuters

By Robin Emmott and John Irish | BRUSSELS/PARIS BRUSSELS/PARIS France and Germany will agree to a U.S. plan for NATO to take a bigger role in the fight against Islamic militants at a meeting with President Donald Trump on Thursday, but insist the move is purely symbolic, four senior European diplomats said.The decision to allow the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to join the coalition against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq follows weeks of pressure on the two allies, who are wary of NATO confronting Russia in Syria and of alienating Arab countries who see NATO as pushing a pro-Western agenda."NATO as an institution will join the coalition," said one senior diplomat involved in the discussions. "The question is whether this just a symbolic gesture to the United States

China's Xi says navy should become world class
| Reuters
World

China's Xi says navy should become world class | Reuters

BEIJING Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday called for greater efforts to make the country's navy a world class one, strong in operations on, below and above the surface, as it steps up its ability to project power far from its shores.China's navy has taken an increasingly prominent role in recent months, with a rising star admiral taking command, its first aircraft carrier sailing around self-ruled Taiwan and a new aircraft carrier launched last month.With President Donald Trump promising a US shipbuilding spree and unnerving Beijing with his unpredictable approach on hot button issues including Taiwan and the South and East China Seas, China is pushing to narrow the gap with the U.S. Navy.Inspecting navy headquarters, Xi said the navy should "aim for the top ranks in the world", the Defence Ministry said in a statement about his visit."Building a strong and modern navy is an important mark of a top ranking global military," the ministry paraphrased Xi as saying.