It was the first time Navalny has been back home since he was poisoned last summer. His plane was diverted to another Moscow airport at the last minute in an apparent effort by authorities to thwart journalists and supporters greeting him.
His plane had been meant to arrive at Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport, but landed at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport instead. The flight was operated by Russian airline Pobeda, owned by state-controlled Aeroflot.
Navalny, one of President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent domestic critics, was flown to Berlin in August last year for emergency medical treatment after being poisoned with what German tests showed was a Novichok nerve agent.
“This is the best moment in the last five months,” he told reporters after he boarded the plane in the German capital bound for Moscow. “I feel great. Finally, I’m returning to my home town.”
He announced his decision to return from Germany on Wednesday, and a day later Moscow’s prison service said it would do everything to arrest him once he returned, accusing him of flouting the terms of a suspended prison sentence for embezzlement, a 2014 case he says was trumped up.
The 44-year-old, who boarded the plane at the last minute from a car sitting on the tarmac, hence avoiding other passengers, made light of the risk of returning home.
He said he didn’t think he would be arrested, calling himself an innocent person.
“What do I need to be afraid of? What bad thing can happen to me in Russia?” he added. “I feel like a citizen of Russia who has every right to return,” he added.
He was accompanied by his wife Yulia, his spokeswoman, and his lawyer.
Navalny, who is hoping for success in parliamentary elections in September, faces potential trouble in three other criminal cases too, all of which he says are politically motivated.