The U.S and several European Governments have called for the immediate release of leading Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny after he was detained at a Moscow airport on Sunday.
The Kremlin critic, who faces a potential prison term over a 2014 conviction he says was based on trumped-up charges, was hauled into the Moscow police station on Monday after allegedly being denied access to his lawyers.
Mr. Navalny, 44, was returning home from convalescence in Germany five months after an attempt on his life in a nerve agent poisoning he accuses Vladimir Putin of orchestrating.
President Vladimir Putin’s government has denied responsibility for the attack.
The U.S said the arrest was the ‘latest in a series of attempts to silence Mr. Navalny’, while Britain said his detention was ‘appalling’ and Germany said the arrest at a border post at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport was ‘totally incomprehensible’.
But Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov hit back by accusing Western governments of voicing outrage over Navalny in order to distract from their own domestic problems.
Other EU countries have also added their voice to calls for the politician to be freed. France expressed “great concern” at the news and urged for his immediate release.
“Together with its European partners, it is following his situation with the utmost vigilance and calls for his immediate release,” the French foreign ministry said in a statement.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Navalny’s arrest is “incomprehensible” and that “he should be released immediately.”
“Navalny was the victim of a serious poisoning attack on Russian soil. We continue to expect that Russia does everything possible to fully investigate this attack and to bring the perpetrators to justice,” he added.
The Russian opposition leader announced on Wednesday that he would return to his homeland after recovering from being poisoned with a nerve agent, despite Russian authorities’ threats to put him behind bars again.
Navalny, who has blamed his poisoning in August on the Kremlin, said that Putin was now trying to deter him from coming home with new legal motions.
Moscow has repeatedly denied a role in the opposition leader’s poisoning.