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After Poisoning, Russian Opposition Leader Navalny Vows To Return To Russia

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, shown here at a 2019 rally in Moscow, says he plans to return to Russia.
Dmitri Lovetsky
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, shown here at a 2019 rally in Moscow, says he plans to return to Russia.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny announced he plans to return home to Russia on Sunday from Germany, where he has spent months recovering from being poisoned.

In an Instagram post Wednesday, he said he purchased a plane ticket to Russia that morning after feeling "almost healthy enough to come back home."

"There was never a question for me whether to return or not, never," Navalny said on Twitter. "I ended up in Germany having arrived there in an intensive care box. On January 17, Sunday, I will return home on Pobeda airline flight."

Navalny was flown to Berlin in a coma after he was poisoned while on a trip to Siberia in August. Tests by health authorities in Europe later showed that he had been poisoned by a variant of the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok. Navalny has been recuperating from extensive nerve damage since doctors removed him from his medically induced coma in September.

In recent weeks, Navalny said the investigative group Bellingcat recently uncovered evidence that Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) was behind his poisoning. One report featured a phone call in which Navalny tricked one of the alleged agents into revealing that the team had applied Novichok to the seams in his underwear. The Kremlin has denied involvement in Navalny's poisoning.

Navalny's announcement has surprised his supporters, who are worried that he will be imprisoned upon arrival to Russia. On Monday, the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service sent an official request to a court asking to replace Navalny's suspended sentence in a 6-year-old case with a new jail term, saying that by staying in Germany, Navalny has violated the terms of the sentence.

In 2014, a Russian court found Navalny guilty of fraud after he and his brother were accused of embezzling the equivalent of half a million dollars from a Russian subsidiary of French cosmetics company Yves Rocher.

Navalny received a suspended sentence, and his brother was sentenced to a prison term. Russia launched a new fraud accusation and prison threat against him last month for allegedly misusing donations from supporters and spending them "on private purposes."

In a video address, Navalny said new criminal cases brought against him are politically motivated and "demonstratively fabricated."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.