MOSCOW (Reuters) – Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was rushed to a court hearing inside a police station on Monday, a day after he was detained at a Moscow airport when flying home for the first time since he was poisoned last summer.
Navalny, in a video from inside the police station, called the move an example of lawlessness and lashed out at President Vladimir Putin, accusing him of throwing the criminal code out of the window in fear.
The Kremlin was expected to comment on his case later on Monday, but usually refers questions about the 44-year-old opposition politician to law enforcement agencies.
Navalny’s detention was ordered by Moscow’s prison service in relation to alleged violations of a suspended prison sentence in a case he says was trumped up.
Monday’s court hearing, parts of which was live streamed by Navalny, may rule for him to be held in custody until a different court decides whether to convert that suspended 3.5 year sentence into real jail time.
Four masked police officers detained Navalny at passport control on Sunday evening, the first time he had returned home after being poisoned by what German military tests showed was a Novichok nerve agent, a version of events the Kremlin rejects.
Western nations told Russia, which could face punitive sanctions over its conduct, to immediately free Navalny. The Russian Foreign Ministry quickly rejected those calls, telling them to mind their own business.
“Respect international law, do not encroach on national legislation of sovereign states and address problems in your own country,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote on Facebook.
Navalny’s case could trigger new sanctions against Russia, especially against an $11.6 billion project to build a natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, with some EU countries saying they want the bloc to swiftly impose such measures.
The rouble weakened as investors weighed the risk of new sanctions against Moscow.
The foreign ministers of Germany, Britain, France and Italy called for Navalny’s release. Lithuania said on Sunday it would ask the EU to swiftly impose new sanctions on Russia. Czech Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek said he wanted the bloc to discuss possible sanctions.
Jake Sullivan, one of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s top aides, told Moscow to free Navalny, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Twitter he was deeply troubled by Moscow’s decision to arrest Navalny.
Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister, told a news conference that Western countries’ expressions of outrage over the detention were designed to distract their own citizens from domestic problems.
He said the Navalny case had gained artificial resonance in the West and that Moscow was unfazed by potential damage to its image.
“We should probably think about our image, but we’re not young ladies going to a ball,” Lavrov told reporters.
Additional reporting by Tom Balmforth, Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber, Alexander Marrow; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Philippa Fletcher
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