Opposition leader returns to Russia after poisoning

Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny is expected to return to Russia today more than four months after he was poisoned

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Photo: Pavel Golovkin/AP

Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny is expected to return to Russia today more than four months after he was poisoned before boarding a domestic flight in Siberia.

The anti-government activist was exposed to the nerve agent Novichok last August. Navalny travelled to Germany to receive treatment after nearly dying and is now in a stable condition. Despite international condemnation and considerable evidence to the contrary, the Kremlin has denied any involvement.

Given Navalny’s renewed popularity among anti-Putin Russians and the governments of the EU, it is unlikely the Kremlin will further threaten his physical safety. Instead, Moscow will target the opposition leader through legal means. Navalny received a suspended sentence on a fraud case involving him and his brother, which Russian prosecutors alleged Navalny violated by remaining in Germany after his initial treatment. He was also accused of fraud by the government at the end of last year.

Imprisoning Navalny once more could spark a new wave of anti-government protests across Russia in the short-term, likely to be backed at least politically by the EU and the US. In the medium- to long-term, this could contribute to serious calls for political reform, from better protection of civil liberties to demands for President Vladimir Putin’s resignation.

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