Alexei Navalny returns to Russia amid arrest threat
Kremlin critic, Alexei Navalny is to return to Moscow on Sunday for the first time since he was poisoned by a nerve agent last year.
Navalny took off on Pobeda airlines plane in Berlin, bound for Russia.
The activist says the authorities were behind the attempt on his life, an allegation backed up by investigative journalists but denied by the Kremlin.
Russian authorities’ stated their desire to arrest him and potentially jail him for years on his return from Germany
Mr Navalny, 44, has been in Germany where he was receiving medical treatment.
He has appealed to supporters to meet him off the flight, and a “Let’s meet Navalny” page has been set up on Facebook (in Russian).
Thousands of people have said they will go or expressed an interest, despite forecasts of extreme cold.
In a tweet, the opposition leader accused the Kremlin of encouraging people to go to Vnukovo airport to see a pop star, Olga Buzova, in a bid to squeeze out his supporters.
In August, Mr Navalny collapsed on a plane flying home from Tomsk in Siberia to Moscow and the pilot diverted the flight to the city of Omsk, from where he was eventually allowed to fly on to Germany in an induced coma.
Russian authorities have consistently denied any role in the poisoning, and the Kremlin has rejected Mr Navalny’s claims that President Vladimir Putin himself ordered it.
He was released from hospital in Berlin in September to continue his recuperation.
The Putin critic has said he misses Moscow, is almost fully recovered from the attack, and that there was never any doubt he would return.
The Russian authorities have warned Mr Navalny could face imprisonment after missing a prison service deadline in December to report at an office in Moscow.
The prison service accuses him of violating conditions imposed after a conviction for embezzlement, for which he received a suspended sentence.
He has always condemned the case as politically motivated.
Separately, Russia’s investigative committee has launched a new criminal case against him on fraud charges related to transfers of money to various NGOs, including his Anti-Corruption Foundation.
Mr Navalny has asserted that Mr Putin is doing all he can to stop his opponent from coming back by fabricating new cases against him.
News media from around the world gathered at Berlin airport to record the activist’s departure from Germany – but Russian federal TV channels and news agencies are ignoring his return.
Mr Navalny said recently he was able to do push-ups and squat exercises, and therefore had probably almost fully recovered.