The United States and numerous European countries are urging for the “immediate release” of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who was taken into police custody after arriving in Moscow from Germany.

Jake Sullivan, US President-elect Joe Biden’s national security adviser, has criticized Moscow for arresting Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, calling the Russian politician’s arrest “not just a violation of human rights, but an affront to the Russian people who want their voices heard.”

“Mr Navalny should be immediately released, and the perpetrators of the outrageous attack on his life must be held accountable,” Jake Sullivan wrote on Twitter.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also condemned Navalny’s arrest in a statement on Sunday. 

“We note with grave concern that his detention is the latest in a series of attempts to silence Navalny and other opposition figures and independent voices who are critical of Russian authorities,” Pompeo said.

The Russian opposition politician was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on Sunday after he flew to Russian from Germany, defying warnings of his arrest.

The anti-corruption campaigner was nearly killed in a poisoning attack in August last year. Navalny, 44, says the poisoning was ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin denies any involvement.

Experts in Germany, where Navalny was being treated, concluded that he was poisoned with Soviet-designed nerve toxin Novichok.

Russia’s federal prison service FSIN said Navalny had been arrested over “multiple violations” of a 2014 suspended sentence for fraud charges. The opposition leader “will be held in custody” until a court ruling, they said.

European Union condemns arrest

Earlier on Sunday, European Council President Charles Michel lashed out at Russian authorities for detaining Navalny.

“The detainment of Alexey Navalny upon arrival in Moscow is unacceptable. I call on Russian authorities to immediately release him,” Michel wrote on Twitter.

The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell urged Moscow to “respect Alexei Navalny’s rights and release him immediately.”

“Politicization of the judiciary is unacceptable,” Borrell tweeted.

Reacting to Navalny’s arrest, rights group Amnesty International said the Russian politician had become a prisoner of conscience. It accused Russian authorities of waging “a relentless campaign” to silence him.

“Navalny’s arrest is further evidence that Russian authorities are seeking to silence him. His detention only highlights the need to investigate his allegations that he was poisoned by state agents acting on orders from the highest levels,” said Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director.

Call for EU sanctions against Moscow

European countries have unequivocally slammed Russian authorities over Navalny’s arrest, with French officials expressing “very strong concern.”

“Along with its European partners, it [France] is following his situation with the greatest vigilance and calls for his immediate release,” the French foreign ministry said in a statement on Sunday night.

Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis has called for EU sanctions against Moscow. “The detention of the opposition leader and poisoning survivor Alexei Navalny is totally unacceptable. The EU should discuss further sanctions on those involved,” Landsbergis told AFP news agency.

European Union members Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia also called for the “imposition of restrictive measures” against Russia.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki urged the EU to respond quickly to Navalny’s arrest.

“The detention of Navalny is another attempt to intimidate the democratic opposition in Russia. A swift and unequivocal response at the EU level is essential. Respect for citizens’ rights is the cornerstone of democracy,” Morawiecki wrote on Twitter.

“I appeal to the authorities in Russia to release the detainee immediately,” he said.

In September, Morawiecki suggested that Russia was a “hostile regime,” after Germany said Navalny had been poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent.

Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio on Sunday dubbed the arrest “a very serious matter.”

“We ask for his immediate release. And we expect his rights to be respected”, Luigi Di Maio tweeted.

 

Deutsche Welle