Fri 22 January 2021:
European Council chief Charles Michel demanded the “immediate release” of Navalny in a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday.
“In my call with president Putin today I reiterated the EU is united in its condemnation of Alexey Navalny’s detention and calls for his immediate release,” Charles Michel wrote on Twitter following the phone call.
According to the EU’s readout of the phone conversation, Michel told Putin that the EU is united in its call on Russia to “swiftly release Mr Navalny and proceed with the investigation into the assassination attempt on him, in full transparency and without further delay.”
He also informed the Russian president about his intention for a strategic debate on EU-Russia relations in the European Council meeting in March.
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The EU had already condemned an attempt to assassinate Navalny and his arrest on his return to Russia after treatment, but Michel has now expressed “grave concerns” directly to Putin. He told the Kremlin chief he would launch a “strategic debate” on EU-Russia relations when he convenes a summit of all 27 EU leaders in March.
“The President of the European Council informed President Putin of the grave concern in the EU and its Member States over recent developments and called to fully and unconditionally respect Alexei Navalny’s rights,” Michel’s office said.
Navalny, 44, was arrested on Sunday as he returned to Russia from Germany for the first time since he recovered from a near-fatal poisoning with the Soviet-designed Novichok nerve agent in August.
After tests in several laboratories, German officials said Navalny was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok, which was also used according to the UK government in a 2018 attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the British town of Salisbury.
Navalny hit back Tuesday with the publication of a corruption investigation into a lavish, $1.35 billion property on Russia’s Black Sea coast that he alleged was owned by Putin.
In a two-hour long video accompanying the report on his blog, Navalny described the vast estate as a “state within Russia” in which Putin is “tsar”.
Navalny’s allies are planning demonstrations on Saturday in dozens of Russian cities in support of the Kremlin critic who was arrested and jailed on his return to Russia following a near-fatal poisoning with a nerve agent.
Several close Navalny associates, including prominent activist Lyubov Sobol and his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh, were detained on Thursday for urging Russians to join the demonstrations and they face hefty fines and short jail stints.
Russian police said Friday that “any such protests will be regarded as a threat to public order and immediately suppressed”.
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