MOSCOW — A plane carrying Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny landed Sunday in Moscow, where he faces the threat of arrest.
But the flight landed at a different airport than had been scheduled, a possible attempt to outwit journalists and supporters who wanted to witness the return.
Navalny, who is President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent and determined foe, was returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from poisoning by a nerve agent, which he blames on the Kremlin.
Russia’s prison service last week issued a warrant for his arrest, saying he had violated the terms of suspended sentence he received on a 2014 conviction for embezzlement. The prison service has asked a Moscow court to turn Navalny’s 3 1/2-year suspended sentence into a real one.
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After boarding the Moscow flight in Berlin on Sunday, Navalny said of the prospect of arrest: “It’s impossible; I’m an innocent man.”
Navalny fell into a coma while aboard a domestic flight from Siberia to Moscow on Aug. 20. He was transferred from a hospital in Siberia to a Berlin hospital two days later. Labs in Germany, France and Sweden, and tests by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, established that he was exposed to a Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent.
The Kremlin has repeatedly denied a role in the opposition leader’s poisoning.
Russian authorities insisted that the doctors who treated Navalny in Siberia before he was airlifted to Germany found no traces of poison and have challenged German officials to provide proof of his poisoning. They refused to open a full-fledged criminal inquiry, citing a lack of evidence that Navalny was poisoned.
Last month, Navalny released the recording of a phone call he said he made to a man he described as an alleged member of a group of officers of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, who purportedly poisoned him in August and then tried to cover it up. The FSB dismissed the recording as fake.