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Navalny to return to Russia despite prison threat

Accusing Putin of trying everything to prevent his return, Navalny vows homecoming

alexei-navalny-instagram Screen grab of Alexei Navalny's video released on Instagram

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, recovering in Germany from being poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok, has announced that he will be returning to Moscow on Sunday—despite signs from Russia’s federal prison service that it seeks to imprison him on arrival.

In a video message, Navalny described the process of his recovery from Novichok, from being barely able to lie down and stand up again to performing push-ups, squats and burpies (which he called a “hell of a thing”). Once he realised he was “almost healthy”, he said he was ready to come home.

“The question ‘to return or not’ was never before. I arrived in Germany in an intensive care box [not because I wanted to leave] for one reason: They tried to kill me,” he said.

“I survived. And now Putin, who gave the order for my murder, screeches all over his bunker and tells his servants to do everything so that I do not return. The servants act as usual: they fabricate new criminal cases against me...But what they do there is not very interesting to me. Russia is my country, Moscow is my city, I miss them,” he said.

He added that on Wednesday morning, he purchased Pobesda flight tickets for January 17.

“On Jan. 17, Sunday, I will return home on a Pobeda flight. Come greet me,” he tweeted with a winking smiley.

Russia’s Federal Prison Service (FSIN) had last month ordered Navalny to return, accusing him of flouting a suspended prison sentence over a 2014 fraud conviction—largely seen as an act of political revenge over his opposition to President Vladimir Putin. Navalny led mass protests over the 2011 parliamentary elections, which he alleges were rigged.

He has since become the most prominent opposition figure to Putin, being jailed on multiple occasions. On August 20, he was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok and turned violently ill while flying from Tomsk to Moscow. International observers have confirmed that Novichok was used to poison, with Navalny laying the blame on the Kremlin—charges Russia denies. Putin has laughed off the accusation, saying if he wanted to kill Navalny, it "would have been done".

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