Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny says authorities in Moscow have formally asked a Russian court to jail him for violating terms of his parole dating back to a 2015 suspended sentence — the latest twist in a lengthy political drama between the opposition figure and the Kremlin.
Navalny made the announcement from Germany, where he has spent the past four months recovering from an August poison attack carried out while traveling in Siberia.
Navalny argues the attack was carried out by Russia’s Federal Security Services on the orders of President Vladimir Putin — a charge he made again regarding the court request.
“Putin is so furious I survived the poisoning that he forced the Federal Penitentiary Service to go to court and demand changing my suspended sentences into a real one,” Navalny tweeted.
Court documents published online confirmed the move.
Last minute parole hearing
Tuesday’s news didn’t come entirely by surprise.
Last month, Russia’s prison service ordered Navalny to attend a parole hearing or risk jail for failing to return before the terms of his suspended sentence expired.
Prison authorities justified the move by citing an article in the British medical journal Lancet that claimed Navalny had effectively recovered from a strain of the military nerve agent Novichok back in October — giving him more than enough time to appear before his parole officer in Moscow.
“In this way, the convict serving a suspended sentence has not met the court ordered requirements put upon him” read the announcement.
The legal maneuvering appeared aimed at discouraging Navalny from returning to Russia to resume his political activities — which he has insisted he will do once fully recovered.
Should a judge rule in favor of the state request, Navalny faces a possible 3.5 years in prison.
Reacting on Tuesday, Navalny noted the European Court of Human Rights had ruled the 2015 conviction on corruption charges was politically motivated as part of a campaign to keep him out of elected political life.
Further suggesting the political nature of the latest move: The prison officials request came on December 28 of last year — just two days before Navalny’s parole was set to expire for good.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov had earlier indicated that government officials would do nothing to stand in the way of Navalny — or any other Russian citizen — returning home.
An emergency landing and initial treatment by Russian doctors in the city of Omsk offered few clues as to what had happened.
The Omsk doctors insisted they could find no traces of poison.
Upon his subsequent evacuation to a clinic in Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said toxicologists had "unequivocal proof” that Navalny had been poisoned with Novichok — a Soviet-era military-grade toxin.
Swedish and French laboratories have since confirmed those findings as has the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Russia vigorously denies the charges but also has refused to launch an official investigation — arguing it has yet to see proof of a crime and suggesting Navalny suffered from a metabolic disease or low blood sugar.
Additionally, Russia has criticized Germany for failing to provide proof or share evidence of its Novichok findings.
In December, a consortium of media outlets published an investigation that allegedly prove FSB agents surveilled Navalny in the months, days, and hours leading up to the attack.
Meanwhile, Navalny presented his own evidence: he released footage of a prank call that he placed to a suspected member of the assassin team in which the FSB officer unwittingly confirmed key details of the operation.
Russia’s Federal Security Services have dismissed the call as a fake.
Putin acknowledged his government’s surveillance of Navalny, albeit with a twist: the Russian leader alleged the opposition leader was working directly with American intelligence, leaving the FSB no choice.
"The intelligence agencies of course need to keep an eye on him,” said Putin. “But that does not mean that he needs to be poisoned — who needs him? If they had really wanted to, they would have probably finished the job.”