The Russian Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) announced Thursday that prominent opposition leader and Putin critic Alexei Navalny will face arrest upon his return to Russia, state media outlet Tass reported Thursday.
Navalny, who has been in Germany recuperating from an alleged Kremlin-ordered assassination attempt using the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok, earned a spot on Russia’s federal wanted list after surviving the affair and announcing his intent to return to Russia on January 17, according to Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty (RFERL).
The Russian dissident became ill during a flight from Siberia to Moscow on August 2020, falling into a coma which prompted his transport to Germany for treatment, despite objections from the Russian doctors treating him. Navalny has since recovered. German doctors declared there was “unequivocal proof” that his mysterious illness was the result of exposure to Novichok, a Russian nerve agent notorious for its use in political assassinations.
The stated rationale for Navalny’s outlawry was his alleged violation of a suspended prison sentence by not making known his permanent address to authorities. The Russian Supreme Court, in 2018, upheld a fraud conviction against Navalny and his brother, Oleg, affirming a 2014 ruling which found the pair had laundered $500,000 from French cosmetics company Yves Rocher. Both received three-and-a-half-year prison sentences, but Navalny obtained a probationary reprieve which expired December 30,202, RFERL stated.
Russia attracted international scrutiny for its handling of the case, with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) intervening at multiple stages in the appellate process. Despite generally favorable rulings for Navalny outside of Russia, the prison sentence and conviction remain the pretenses for Navalny’s arrest.
In announcing its intent to arrest Navalny upon his return to Russia, the FSIN told reporters:
In light of the fact that the real place of residence of the convicted person has been unknown … since September 24, initial inquiry measures were launched against Navalny A. on November 27, 2020. Convicted Navalny A. was placed on the wanted list on December 29 with an instruction to detain him when his whereabouts are identified.
The FSIN previously warned Navalny that his lingering in Germany would force action on their part, demanding in December he return to the country or face the prison sentence, the suspension of which was set to expire at the end of the month.
The circumstances of Navalny’s exposure to Novichok and the alleged assassination attempt remain unclear. Navalny himself has publicly accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering his death, an accusation which the Kremlin has repeatedly denied.
Russian denials have largely come equipped with spectacular counter-theories explaining how Navalny may have exposed to the deadly nerve agent. Putin reportedly suggested to French President Emmanuel Macron that Navalny may have in fact poisoned himself during a phone call in September. In November, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claimed Navalny was actually poisoned upon his arrival in Germany or while on the plane en route to the Charite clinic where he recovered.
In late December, Putin again denied ordering Navalny’s death, stating flatly that, had he told his agents to kill him, “they would have finished it.”