Global lens

How the world reported Alexei Navalny’s arrest

Poisoned Russian opposition leader detained after returning home from Berlin

A Russian judge has begun a hastily assembled hearing into the detention of Alexei Navalny after the opposition leader was detained at Moscow’s main airport yesterday. 

In a video posted on Twitter, Navalny said the judge was presiding over the case at a makeshift court in a police station. Addressing the camera, he says: “It’s impossible, what’s happening here. It’s the highest level of lawlessness, there’s no other word for it.”

The outspoken Kremlin critic was detained by police who were waiting when his flight landed at Sheremetyevo airport. Navalny was returning from Germany after spending five months in hospital in Berlin recovering from an assassination attempt blamed on the Kremlin.

The plane had been rerouted shortly before landing from Vnukovo airport, on the other side of the Russian capital, where photos posted online showed thousands of Navalny supporters had gathered.

The furore surrounding his return to Russia confirms Navalny as the Kremlin’s “greatest domestic enemy”, writes the Financial Times’ Europe editor Ben Hall. And his “treatment by the Russian government has only elevated his status as a symbol of repression”.

All the same, fears are mounting about Navalny’s safety. The Guardian’s Moscow correspondent Andrew Roth says that “what happens to Vladimir Putin’s opponent after his arrest depends on what officials think they can get away with”.

The Kremlin has “done its utmost to smother him” for more than a decade and could now seek to “sideline Navalny for good”, Roth continues.

The arrest has drawn condemnation from leaders across Europe and in the US. 

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has called for the opposition leader’s release, adding: “It is appalling that Alexei Navalny, the victim of a despicable crime, has been detained by Russian authorities.”

In his home country, Navalny has “won a young fan base through viral videos exposing corruption among the elites”, says independent newspaper The Moscow Times.

But “the question now is whether Navalny will be jailed for only a few days or weeks - as has happened to him repeatedly in recent years - or for much longer”, The New York Times adds.

Whether Putin’s plan is “to keep him busy fighting off new charges, detentions and harassment or send him to jail now largely depends on potential public backlash against his prosecution”, says The Telegraph’s Russia correspondent Nataliya Vasilyeva.

The international response is also likely to be a factor - and not everyone is calling for Navalny to be freed.

The state-owned China Daily devoted just 150 words to his arrest. Meanwhile, Budapest-based investigative journalist Szabolcs Panyi has tweeted about the “deafening silence” from the authorities in Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban has boasted of his “special relationship” with Putin.

Navalny’s supporters in Russia may draw hope from the circumstances surrounding his arrest, however.

The sudden diversion of his flight from an airport full of supporters “shows how scared the Kremlin is of any public show in his support”, The Telegraph’s Vasilyeva argues.

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