Navalny Urges Protests Against His Detention in Russia

MOSCOW—Russian opposition leader

Alexei Navalny

urged supporters to take to the streets as he was ordered to be held in pretrial custody for 30 days, while Russia’s foreign ministry warned Western countries not to interfere in a case that is already worsening tensions with the U.S. and Europe.

Mr. Navalny was brought before a judge Monday, the day after he was detained on arrival at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. It was the first time he had tried to return to Russia since a near-fatal poison attack last August that left him in a coma and undergoing treatment in Germany.

He was remanded in custody until Feb. 15, and now faces a court decision that could turn a suspended sentence he received for an embezzlement case in 2014 into a real prison term. Authorities say he violated the terms of his parole while he was abroad recovering from August’s attack.

After recovering in Germany from a near-fatal poisoning attack, prominent Putin critic Alexei Navalny returned to Russia and was immediately detained. Here’s how the arrest of the Kremlin’s most vocal critic played out, and what might happen next. Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

The European Court of Human Rights said in 2018 that the original case was politically motivated and those charges are trumped up. In addition, Russian prosecutors opened a criminal investigation into him for allegedly siphoning donations to his Anti-Corruption Foundation.

Mr. Navalny says both legal moves were politically motivated and meant to scare him away from returning to Russia. In short videos from the courtroom distributed among supporters, Mr. Navalny, 44 years old, said his detention showed that Mr. Putin fears his opposition movement, which will seek to make gains in a parliamentary election in September. He also called on supporters to hold public protests in a show of force.

“Taking to the streets, it’s the political factor no one can ignore…It’s the very essence of politics, so don’t be afraid,” he said.

Political analysts say the Kremlin is anxious about the prospect of protests in support of Mr. Navalny, fearing they could snowball into a broader protest against diminishing political freedoms and sagging living standards ahead of this year’s parliamentary election. Mr. Navalny was freed on bail in an earlier case after his supporters launched protests on the Kremlin’s doorstep.

Mr. Navalny’s spokeswoman

Kira Yarmysh

said he was being taken to the

Matrosskaya Tishina

federal prison, where

Mikhail Khodorkovsky,

the Russian oligarch-turned-politician, served much of his prison sentence before he was pardoned in 2013.

Last year, the EU applied sanctions against Russian officials close to Mr. Putin after Moscow refused to launch an investigation into Mr. Navalny’s poisoning, but his detention has added a new dimension to the animosity between Western capitals and Mr. Putin.

European Commission President

Ursula von der Leyen

on Monday called for the immediate release of Mr. Navalny and repeated calls for an independent investigation into his poisoning during a visit to supporters in Siberia. Mr. Navalny fell ill on a flight back to Moscow, and was subsequently taken for treatment in Berlin, where he spent months recuperating.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister

Gabrielius Landsbergis,

in a joint statement with fellow former Soviet states Estonia and Latvia, called for talks on new measures against Russia if Mr. Navalny wasn’t freed.

In the U.S., Secretary of State

Mike Pompeo

said he was troubled by the news.

“Confident political leaders do not fear competing voices, nor see the need to commit violence against or wrongfully detain, political opponents,” he wrote on


And in a signal that Mr. Navalny’s detention could be an irritant for President-elect

Joe Biden’s

ties with Russia, incoming national security adviser

Jake Sullivan

also called for Mr. Navalny’s release. Lawmakers have already called for measures to be taken against Moscow for Russia’s alleged hack of U.S. government computer systems, revealed last month.

Doctors in Germany have said Mr. Navalny was poisoned with Novichok, a Soviet-era nerve agent that Western intelligence agencies say is only obtainable with Russian military or intelligence permission. Mr. Navalny directly blamed the Kremlin for the attack.

Russian authorities have denied the Kremlin played any part in why Mr. Navalny fell ill and say the opposition politician, a lawyer by training, must face the law.

Russian Foreign Minister

Sergei Lavrov

Monday criticized Western statements and said that by making Mr. Navalny a cause célèbre, leaders were drawing attention away from their own failings.

“Judging by everything it allows Western politicians to think that they can distract attention from the deep crisis the liberal model of development has found itself in,” he said.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman

Maria Zakharova

said the U.S. should mind its own business and not interfere in the “national legislation of sovereign states.”

Moscow says it hasn’t received sufficient proof from European laboratories that the opposition leader had traces of a nerve agent in his system and says he could have been suffering from what Russian doctors called a metabolic imbalance, akin to a low-blood sugar attack.

Write to Thomas Grove at

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