Arch Kremlin foe Alexei Navalny returns to Russia from Germany today, facing imminent arrest after authorities warned they would detain him for violating a sentence over alleged fraud.
The 44-year-old opposition leader is flying back to Moscow after spending several months in Germany recovering from a poisoning attack that he said was carried out on the orders of President Vladimir Putin.
Mr Navalny fell violently ill on a flight over Siberia in August and was flown out to Berlin by medical aircraft in an induced coma.
Western experts concluded he was poisoned with a Soviet-designed nerve toxin Novichok.
The Kremlin denied involvement and Russian investigators said there were no grounds to launch a probe into the attack.
Berlin said yesterday it had responded to requests for legal assistance from Moscow and handed over transcripts of an interview conducted by German police with Mr Navalny.
Russia’s prison service (FSIN) is now saying the political leader may face jail time on arrival to Moscow for violating the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence he was handed on fraud charges.
FSIN said it would be “obliged” to detain Mr Navalny.
The anti-graft campaigner may also face criminal charges under a probe launched by Russian investigators late last year who say he misappropriated over $4 million worth of donations.
Mr Navalny and his allies view these moves as attempts to prevent his return and encouraged supporters to come meet the opposition leader this evening when he lands in Moscow’s Vnukovo airport.
More than 2,000 people said they are planning to go in a Facebook event.
Groups opposed to Mr Navalny are also planning to show up with a nationalist movement promising to welcome him with “zelyonka”, a bright green antiseptic solution that is commonly found in Russia.
The activist had previously been attacked with the green dye that can take days to wash off.
For around a decade, Mr Navalny has been the symbol of Russia’s protest movement, after rising to prominence as an anti-corruption blogger and leading anti-government street rallies.
His team publishes YouTube investigations into the wealth of Russia’s political elites, some of which garner millions of views, making them a target of lawsuits, police raids and jail stints.
Moscow prosecutors on Friday warned against participating in the “public event” organised in Vnukovo airport, saying it has not been authorised.
The airport told journalists that it will not allow media to work inside citing coronavirus concerns.