Chief Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was flying back to Russia on Sunday for the first time since a near-fatal poisoning attack last summer, facing the threat of imminent arrest after his plane lands in Moscow.
A flight carrying Navalny from Germany, where the 44-year-old spent months recovering from the August poisoning, took off from Berlin’s Brandenburg Airport just after 3:15 pm (1415 GMT), according to AFP journalists on the plane.
Wearing a blue face mask, green jacket and scarf, Navalny boarded with his wife Yulia and took his seat in row 13.
Speaking to reporters on the plane, he said he did not fear being arrested on arrival in Moscow.
“They will arrest me? They will arrest me? That’s impossible, I’m an innocent person,” Navalny said.
“I feel I am a citizen of Russia who has the full right to return to his home.”
Supporters were already gathering to meet Navalny outside Vnukovo airport in Moscow, where his plane was due to land around 7:30 pm (1630 GMT).
There was a heavy police presence at Vnukovo, AFP journalists at the airport said, after authorities warned that mass events would not be allowed because of Covid restrictions.
Barricades were put up inside to block the view of the arrivals area.
“How cowardly, pathetic and funny they are,” Navalny wrote on Instagram before leaving Berlin.