Pobeda flight DP936 was a couple of minutes into its descent in the direction of Moscow’s Vnukovo airport, the place 1000’s of supporters of poisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny had been ready to satisfy him on his return to Russia, when the flight captain mentioned he couldn’t land as deliberate.
There had been “technical difficulties”, he mentioned, earlier than including, audibly amused: “Instead we will calmly make our way to Sheremetyevo airport … where the weather is great!”
It was the primary signal to these on board that Navalny’s return from Berlin, the place he had been handled since August after being attacked in Russia with the military-grade nerve agent Novichok, was not going easily.
After touchdown, he sat within the aircraft, looking of the window onto a darkish, snow-covered runaway and a handful of airport staff in fluorescent vests, holding his spouse Yulia’s hand in silence.
His lawyer, additionally on board, had mentioned she didn’t know whether or not the Kremlin’s most vocal and efficient critic could be arrested.
The 44-year-old is accused of flouting the phrases of a suspended sentence for embezzlement in a case that he says was trumped up however might see him jailed for 3-1/2 years.
He entered Terminal D with an brisk step. Stopping in entrance of a glowing, wall-sized panel exhibiting the Kremlin and the Russian flag, he mentioned he had by no means thought-about not returning.
Speaking to reporters, he thanked the nurses and docs in Germany who had handled him for the results of the toxin, from a household initially developed by the Soviet navy.
But he mentioned that this was, nonetheless, his finest day of the previous 5 months.
“This is my home,” he mentioned. “I’m not afraid.”
‘YOU’RE DETAINING ME’
Then, at border management, issues took a flip for the more severe.
Standing within the slim hall of the glass-panelled passport management sales space, Navalny was approached by an official who requested him to step away to “clarify the circumstances” of his entry.
His spouse and lawyer stood proper by, however had been already separated from him by the steel passport management gate. His lawyer requested on what grounds he was being prevented from coming into, however didn’t obtain a transparent response.
Four law enforcement officials in black face masks got here as much as the sales space and likewise demanded Navalny include them.
“Are you detaining me?” Navalny requested. “You’re detaining me,” he mentioned, repeatedly. In that case, he mentioned, he would love his lawyer to hitch him.
The back-and-forth continued for round three minutes, till Navalny turned again to his spouse.
Standing both aspect of the passport gate, the couple embraced, earlier than Navalny rotated to go away with the police.
His spouse, his lawyer and his press secretary headed in the direction of baggage reclaim and sat down, Yulia wanting calm. She requested the journalists current to present her time to collect her ideas.
Then she walked out into the arrivals corridor to be met by a rush of supporters who applauded and chanted: “Yulia! Yulia!” and “Russia will be free!”. Some stood on the balconies above. One gave her a bouquet.
She was then met by Navalny’s brother, Oleg, who spent three-and-a-half years in jail for a similar crime that Alexei was convicted of.
Standing outdoors within the icy night air, Yulia Navalnaya addressed the group: “Alexei said today that he is not afraid. I am not afraid either. And I call upon you all not to be afraid.”
Then she left, and the group steadily dispersed.
Navalny himself, so far as anybody knew, remained within the airport’s transit zone.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV workers and is printed from a syndicated feed.)