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Kremlin critic Navalny lands in Moscow

Alexei Navalny is returning from Germany, where he has spent five months recovering from poisoning by a nerve agent, which he blames on the Kremlin.

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Alexei Navalny and his wife Yulia board the plane at Berlin Brandenburg Airport in Germany (Mstyslav Chernov/AP)

Alexei Navalny and his wife Yulia board the plane at Berlin Brandenburg Airport in Germany (Mstyslav Chernov/AP)

Alexei Navalny and his wife Yulia board the plane at Berlin Brandenburg Airport in Germany (Mstyslav Chernov/AP)

The plane carrying Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has landed in Moscow, where he faces the threat of arrest.

But the flight landed at a different airport to the one scheduled, a possible attempt to outwit journalists and supporters who wanted to witness the return.

Mr Navalny, who is President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent and determined foe, was returning from Germany, where he has spent five months recovering from poisoning by a nerve agent, which he blames on the Kremlin.

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Alexei Navalny and his wife Yulia onboard the plane (Mstyslav Chernov/AP)

Alexei Navalny and his wife Yulia onboard the plane (Mstyslav Chernov/AP)

Alexei Navalny and his wife Yulia onboard the plane (Mstyslav Chernov/AP)

Last week, Russia’s prison service issued a warrant for his arrest, saying he had violated the terms of suspended sentence he received on a 2014 conviction for embezzlement. The prison service has asked a Moscow court to turn Mr Navalny’s three-and-a-half-year suspended sentence into a real one.

After boarding the Moscow flight in Berlin on Sunday, Mr Navalny said about the prospect of arrest: “It’s impossible; I’m an innocent man.”

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied a role in the opposition leader’s poisoning.

Mr Navalny’s supporters and journalists had come to Moscow’s Vnukovo airport, where the plane was scheduled to land, but it actually ended up touching down at Sheremetyevo airport, about 40km (25 miles) away. There was no immediate explanation for the flight diversion.

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Police officers detain a man at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport (Dmitry Serebryakov/AP)

Police officers detain a man at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport (Dmitry Serebryakov/AP)

Police officers detain a man at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport (Dmitry Serebryakov/AP)

The OVD-Info group, which monitors political arrests, said at least 37 people were arrested at Vnukovo airport, although their affiliations were not immediately clear.

Vnukovo had banned journalists from working inside the terminal, saying in a statement last week that the move was due to epidemiological concerns. The airport had also blocked off access to the international arrivals area.

Police prisoner-detention vehicles stood outside the terminal on Sunday.

The independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta and opposition social media reported on Sunday that several of Mr Navalny’s supporters in St Petersburg had been removed from Moscow-bound trains or been prevented from boarding flights late on Saturday and early Sunday, including the co-ordinator of his staff for the region of Russia’s second-largest city.

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Police officers stand guard at Vnukovo airport (Pavel Golovkin/AP)

Police officers stand guard at Vnukovo airport (Pavel Golovkin/AP)

Police officers stand guard at Vnukovo airport (Pavel Golovkin/AP)

Mr Navalny fell into a coma while aboard a domestic flight from Siberia to Moscow on August 20. He was transferred from a hospital in Siberia to a Berlin hospital two days later.

Labs in Germany, France and Sweden, and tests by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, established that he was exposed to a Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent.

Russian authorities insisted that the doctors who treated Mr Navalny in Siberia before he was airlifted to Germany found no traces of poison and have challenged German officials to provide proof of his poisoning.

They refused to open a fully-fledged criminal inquiry, citing a lack of evidence that Mr Navalny had been poisoned.

Last month, Mr Navalny released the recording of a phone call he said he made to a man he described as an alleged member of a group of officers of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, who purportedly poisoned him in August and then tried to cover it up.

The FSB dismissed the recording as fake.

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