From Jail, Navalny Tells Russians To Overcome Fear As EU's Top Diplomat Flies To Moscow
By RFE/RL February 04, 2021
Jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny is calling on Russians to overcome fear and free the country from "a bunch of thieves in power," in his first major comments since a court this week ordered him to serve a prison sentence.
In a statement posted on Instagram on February 4, Navalny wrote that "iron doors slammed behind my back with a deafening sound, but I feel like a free man because I feel confident I'm right and thanks to support from you and my family."
The comments came as Russia continues to reject criticism over the jailing of the Putin critic and a crackdown on his supporters before the EU's top diplomat was due in Moscow to deliver what he said would be "clear messages" to the Kremlin.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell flew to the Russian capital on February 4 amid strong criticism and a threat of sanctions from Western countries over the jailing of Navalny and treatment of protesters.
"It is when things are not going well that you must engage," he said earlier this week.
Moscow has ignored international calls to release Navalny, who on February 2 was sentenced to jail for almost three years for violating the terms of parole while recovering in Germany from a nerve-agent poisoning in August 2020 that the Kremlin critic accuses President Vladimir Putin of ordering.
Russia experienced some of the largest anti-government protests in a decade over the past two weekends with hundreds of thousands assembling in more than 100 cities around the country. Police at times used violence as they detained some 10,000 people in the protests.
More than 1,400 people were also detained when demonstrators took to the streets following the court's order to send Navalny to prison. Many of Navalny's aides have been detained, fined, or put under house arrest.
In his Instagram post, Navalny said his imprisonment was "Putin's personal revenge" for surviving and exposing the assassination attempt.
"But even more than that, it's a message from Putin and his friends to the entire country: 'Did you see what we can do? We spit on laws and steamroll anyone who dares to challenge us. We are the law'," he wrote.
Ahead of Borrell's visit, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told journalists on February 4 that Russia rejected outside interference in its internal affairs.
"We do not intend to pay any attention to such statements regarding the application of our laws to those who violate them, as well as regarding the rulings of our Russian court," Peskov said.
"We are ready to explain these issues further, but we are not ready to discuss them with anybody," he added, according to the Interfax news agency.
Peskov again defended the police crackdown on demonstrators who are demanding the release of Navalny.
"There are no repressions," he said. "There are measures which the police are taking regarding those who break the law."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on February 3 accused the West of "going overboard" in its reaction to the ruling.
Borrell, for his part, put Moscow on notice in a statement ahead of his visit, saying the EU would discuss "implications and possible further action" at an upcoming meeting of the bloc's foreign ministers.
European officials previously said they would wait for the court decision to make any move, including further sanctions on top of those imposed following Navalny's poisoning.
Calls are growing for the EU to boost travel bans and asset freezes it slapped on six Russian officials and one entity in October over the poisoning of Navalny.
Relations between the European Union and Russia deteriorated over Moscow's illegal annexation of Ukraine's Crimea in 2014 and its ongoing support to separatists in eastern Ukraine. There are other concerns about its involvement in Belarus and conflicts in Syria, Libya, and other countries.
With reporting by AFP and Tass
Copyright (c) 2021. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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