Navalny Prepares to Fly to Moscow, Regardless of Menace of Arrest

But analysts said that despite the bureaucratic drumbeat, the final decision on Mr Navalny’s fate would be made in the Kremlin. In recent years the authorities have avoided detaining Mr Navalny for more than a few weeks at a time, apparently to avoid turning him into a place of opposition to President Vladimir V. Putin in prison.

Despite this, his notoriety rose along with the dissatisfaction of the Russians. The populist and persistent style of Mr. Navalny, the slick and humorous YouTube videos and the relentless ridicule of the “crooks and thieves” in the ruling class struck the Russians, frustrated by corrupt officials and stagnant incomes.

The government banned him from running for president in 2018. However, the 44-year-old Navalny built a nationwide network of regional offices and attracted an audience of millions to the Russian elite for his video exposés about the hidden wealth and foreign real estate holdings. He exhorted Russians to use regional and local elections – even if they are not free and fair – to lose Putin’s power by supporting opposition candidates who had the best chance of winning.

Mr Navalny fell ill with poisoning in August when he returned from a trip to Siberia before the elections. He could be heard screaming in the airplane bath before he collapsed. The pilot’s quick emergency landing and immediate treatment of Mr Navalny on the spot in the city of Omsk most likely saved his life, his doctors later said. After a pause, Mr Putin agreed to let the comatose Mr Navalny fly to Berlin for treatment.

In Germany, a military laboratory found that Mr. Navalny had been poisoned by a chemical from the Novichok family of nerve agents developed by the Soviet Union and Russia. Mr Navalny regained consciousness and promised to return to Russia while blaming Mr Putin for trying his life.

There was evidence of this version in December. Research group Bellingcat, which worked with Russian news agency The Insider, used leaked phone records to show that officers from a secret Russian espionage unit with expertise in toxic substances had been following Mr Navalny for years and were around when he was believed to be poisoned.

Mr Navalny then called a man he said was a member of the unit that was supposed to murder him and pretended to be a senior Russian official who wanted to debrief him. In a video that has been viewed more than 20 million times on YouTube, Mr Navalny can be seen extracting a confession from the man who describes a conspiracy to plant the poison on the inseam in the crotch area of ​​the opposition leader’s underwear.

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