Between the inflexible opponent and a power determined not to yield to him an inch, the collision seemed inevitable. It took place, Sunday, January 17, on the ground chosen by the Kremlin, that of delaying maneuvers, legal quibbles and brute force.
The essence of the scenario was written in advance: even before his return, the Russian authorities had warned that they would arrest Alexeï Navalny, guilty of not having respected the conditions of his judicial control. Treated in Germany since his poisoning in August 2020, Mr. Navalny had not gone, in December, to a summons to the police station.
A few minutes after having set foot on Russian soil – his “Best day for the last five months” – the politician was arrested when going through customs. A camera was able to immortalize his last embrace with his wife, before the opponent was taken to an unknown place, without being able to be accompanied by his lawyer.
For the rest, the priority of the authorities was to give as little publicity as possible to this event, even if it meant producing the opposite effect. Expected at Vnoukovo airport, Mr. Navalny’s plane was diverted at the last moment to another Moscow aerodrome, that of Sheremetyevo. Reason given: the brush of a snow plow was dragging on the airstrip. The highway to Sheremetyevo was then partially closed.
Upstream, everything had been done to discourage journalists and supporters of Alexeï Navalny from coming to welcome him. In the crowd of a few hundred present, many had to buy a plane ticket just to get into the terminal. And to create confusion, groups of young people, some of whom easily admitted to having been paid, had entered the airport, supposedly to welcome a reality TV star.
This farce atmosphere, a genre that Kremlin strategists have made a specialty of, was aimed at removing its historical and dramatic character at the time – that of the return of the main opponent of the country, five months after his poisoning by a chemical weapon of the Novichok type. , and despite explicit threats to its security. “I am not afraid of anything and I urge you not to be afraid”, Alexeï Navalny said in a brief statement as he exited the plane.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, for his part, overplayed indifference by pretending to wonder: “I beg your pardon, Navalny has been arrested… In Germany?” I am not aware. “ At the same time, as an obvious denial, access to Red Square was closed. And during the day, more than sixty people were arrested, in Moscow but also in Saint Petersburg, where activists on their way to the capital were taken off the train.
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