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19 Jan, 2021 12:08

Russia will ignore Western appeals for release of opposition activist Alexey Navalny, says Putin’s spokesman

Russia will ignore Western appeals for release of opposition activist Alexey Navalny, says Putin’s spokesman

The Kremlin has said it will not take notice of calls from a number of Western leaders for the release of Moscow protest leader Alexey Navalny, currently behind bars for allegedly violating the terms of a suspended sentence.

Dmitry Peskov, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s official spokesman, told journalists who had dialed into a telephone briefing on Tuesday that the case is a matter for the prison service, and requires no special intervention from the government.

While politicians from the US, UK, and EU have condemned Navalny’s arrest, Peskov insisted that “we hear these statements, but we aren’t going to take them into account. We are talking about the fact that a Russian citizen has not followed Russian law. This is entirely an internal matter, and we won’t allow anyone to interfere.”

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The spokesman also distanced Putin from the decision, insisting that case “has nothing to do with the president of the Russian Federation.” On Sunday, as news broke of Navalny’s arrest at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, Peskov seemed puzzled by requests for a comment from reporters, telling one, “I’m sorry. Was he detained in Germany? I don’t know.”

Navalny was detained on arrival in Moscow on Sunday. He had been transferred to Berlin’s Charité hospital in a comatose state in August, after what his team alleges to be a state-sponsored poisoning with the nerve agent Novichok. However, officials say he lost contact with the prison service after he recovered, breaking the terms of a three-and-a-half-year suspended sentence he had been handed after being found guilty of embezzling 30 million rubles ($400,000) from two companies.

A number of Western leaders have moved to condemn the arrest. On Monday, Germany’s Federal Foreign Office said the action was “incomprehensible” and called for Navalny to be released immediately. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also condemned Moscow for the decision, adding that “confident political leaders do not fear competing voices.”

The Kremlin, however, is apparently unfazed by the potential diplomatic fallout. Peskov added that nations that see the value in good relations with Russia are “in no way affected by one individual citizen.” On Monday, the country’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, also sought to play down the significance of the incident for Moscow’s reputation abroad, suggesting that Western nations were using Navalny’s arrest to distract from their own crises. “Maybe it’s true that you have to think about your image, but we aren’t young ladies getting ready to go to a ball. We have to do our work first, [and] our work is to implement Russian foreign policy,” he said.

Peskov has previously been damning in his opinion of Navalny, telling reporters the activist has a “persecution complex” and is said to compare himself to Jesus. Last week, a Moscow court dismissed a case brought by Navalny’s lawyers against Peskov personally, saying that the spokesman crossed the line into defamation when he alleged Navalny was linked to the CIA, the US’ overseas intelligence agency.

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