Russian opposition figure Aleksei Navalny has left Berlin for Moscow, despite the Russian authorities’ stated intention to arrest him and potentially jail him for years.
Navalny’s flight with the Russian airline Pobeda on January 17 is scheduled to land at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport at 7:20 p.m. local time.
Journalists at Vnukovo have noted a large police presence, while authorities have urged Russians not to come out to greet Navalny.
The outspoken Kremlin critic has received months of medical treatment in Germany for a poisoning that he has blamed on the Russian authorities. He fell ill in August 2020 on a flight from Tomsk to Moscow after being poisoned by a Novichok-type nerve agent
His return sets the stage for a potentially dramatic showdown between the Kremlin and Navalny, one of President Vladimir Putin’s most vocal foes.
Late last month, the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) demanded Navalny return immediately from Germany or face jail in Russia for violating the terms of a suspended prison sentence relating to a 2014 fraud conviction and for evading criminal inspectors.
Navalny denies all wrongdoing in that case and says that it, like several other criminal cases filed against him in recent years, is retribution for his anti-Kremlin political activity.
According to court documents, he could face a prison term of as much as 3 1/2 years.
The OVD-Info group that tracks political arrests said police detained an activist at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport before Navalny’s arrival.
Navalny’s supporters plan to meet him at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport. About 2,000 people have used a Facebook page to say they plan to be there, with another 6,000 expressing an interest. Pro-Kremlin activists are also expected to turn up.
WATCH: Showdown In Moscow: Navalny Risks Jail With Return To Russia
Security measures at the airport have been heightened, with several prisoner-transport trucks parked outside.
The airport has said it will not allow media inside, citing COVID-19 restrictions.