29 January 2021
As has been established in recent Bellingcat investigations, after his 2017 declaration of his intention to run for president in the 2018 Russian presidential election, Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny was tracked for years across 30 flights by a special clandestine squad of operatives from the Federal Security Bureau (FSB), a squad that has since been implicated by Bellingcat in the poisoning not only of Navalny, but of other civil society activists.
After a nearly fatal poisoning before a flight from Tomsk to Moscow on 20 August 2020, Navalny was hospitalised in Omsk before being transferred to the Charité hospital in Berlin, where he spent time in a medically induced coma and in subsequent rehabilitation. Navalny also supported the investigation into his poisoning through a revealing phone call with one of the squad’s operatives, Konstantin Kudryavstev. Furthermore, he worked with his Anti-Corruption Foundation (ФБК/FBK) on an exposé of the “world’s biggest bribe” – Putin’s Black Sea palace, which was published on the day after Navalny’s arrival in Russia and ended with a call for nationwide protests. This exposé now has over 100 million views.
On 17 January 2021, 44-year old Navalny boarded a flight from Berlin to Moscow, and joined the ranks of his 50 supporters who had been arrested that evening whilst waiting for him at Vnukovo airport when he was arrested on arrival at Sheremetyevo airport. The ostensible grounds for his arrest was violation of the terms of his probation in the Yves Rocher case (due to failing to appear at the scheduled reporting session because he was recovering in Germany).
The nationwide protests that took place on 23 January after the exposé video’s appeal for demonstrations saw, despite attempts to stifle calls to rally on social media and deter the general public and especially students (a key demographic of the opposition movement), tens of thousands of protestors on the streets in around 150 cities. There were over 3,700 arrests across the country during the protests, as well as arrests in advance of the rallies of Anti-Corruption Foundation employees, such as spokesperson Kira Yarmysh and FBK investigator Georgy Alburov.
On 27 January law enforcement began carrying out searches of homes and offices related to Navalny, his family members and his associates, under the guise of coronavirus hygiene restrictions. Such searches were conducted at the apartments of Navalny’s brother Oleg (who was imprisoned for 3.5 years in connection with the Yves Rocher case that Aleksei Navalny is being tried under now), his wife Yuliya Navalnaya, FBK lawyer Lyubov Sobol, the Anti-Corruption Foundation’s offices and the “Navalny Live” studio, and others such as Nikolai Kasyan, spokesperson for Moscow Municipial Deputy Yulia Galyamina, Libertarian Party members Igor Yefremov and Gleb Bykov, Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhin, and head of the Doctors’ Alliance, Anastasia Vasilieva (who, as shown in a video that has gone viral played Für Elise on the fortepiano as officers searched her home).
Some of the prominent organisations and individuals that have commented on Navalny’s arrest include Amnesty International, which has declared Aleksei Navalny a prisoner of conscience, U.S president Joe Biden, who expressed his concern regarding Navalny’s arrest in his first telephone conversation with Vladimir Putin, and EU leaders who are considering fresh sanctions against Russia in the case of Navalny’s imprisonment.
On Thursday 28 January 2021, Aleksei Navalny’s detention was extended for 30 days to allow for a different court to decide in early February on converting the suspended 3 1/2-year sentence into jail time. More demonstrations have been planned for Sunday 31 January outside the FSB headquarters on the notorious Lubyanka Square in central Moscow and 52 other Russian cities.