Alexei Navalny posed in camouflage and joked darkly that he was a ‘fugitive criminal’ on Monday after Russian authorities gave him an ultimatum to return from Germany or face jail four months after his Novichok poisoning.
Russia’s prison service said Navalny was ‘evading’ the terms of a suspended sentence back at home, with officials saying they had read in a medical journal that he had been clear of symptoms since October 12.
Navalny voiced incredulity that the Russian government had cited the Lancet article, entitled ‘Novichok nerve agent poisoning’, when the Kremlin says it has seen no evidence that he was poisoned and rejects claims of a state-sponsored plot.
Showing no intention of returning to Russia, Navalny said: ‘Thieves, deceivers and murderers – that’s who is in power in our country. We must drive them out.’
‘In the photo, a fugitive criminal. Therefore, in camouflage’: Alexei Navalny poses in a German forest on Monday as he rejected an ultimatum to return to Russia
Navalny claimed in his Instagram post that Russian authorities wanted him in prison after failing to kill him in the alleged poison plot in August.
The opposition leader was taken ill on a plane in Siberia on August 20 and airlifted two Germany two days later, where a military lab found evidence of the Soviet-era nerve agent.
The Kremlin has rejected calls to open a full investigation into the poisoning, and denied Navalny’s claims that the FSB security agency was behind the plot.
Navalny is recuperating in Germany, but on Monday Russia’s federal prison service accused him of violating the terms of a suspended sentence dating from 2014.
It comes just a day before the end of a probation period for the three-and-a-half-year prison term over a theft case which Navalny says was politically motivated.
‘The convicted man is not fulfilling all of the obligations placed on him by the court, and is evading the supervision of the Criminal Inspectorate,’ a statement said.
The prison service stated no deadline, but Navalny posted a screenshot of a message to his lawyer which said he had until 9am on Tuesday to show up at a Moscow office.
Airlift: Navalny arrives in Berlin two days after his poisoning, by which time his heart had slowed to 33 beats per minute and his body temperature was down to 33.5C (92.3F)
Recovery: Navalny with his wife and children after waking from his coma at the Berlin hospital where doctors say his previous good health contributed to his recovery
His spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said it was impossible for Navalny to return in time, that he was still convalescing after his poisoning, and accused the prison service of acting on orders from the Kremlin.
‘There’s no way he could appear at the Moscow Criminal Inspectorate tomorrow. But does the [prison service] really care about common sense? They were given an order, they are fulfilling it,’ she said.
The Lancet article referred to by the prison service gave unprecedented details of treatment for Novichok, which was previously used in Salisbury in 2018.
‘That means that the state has officially recognized the poisoning,’ Navalny said. ‘And where is the criminal case then?’
The Berlin doctors who wrote the story said that Navalny’s ‘good health status before the poisoning probably favoured his recovery’.
‘At the last follow-up visit on day 55, we found near-complete recovery of neurological, neuropsychological and neurophysiological findings without evidence of polyneuropathy,’ they wrote.
Earlier this month, Navalny claimed he had duped an alleged FSB plotter into admitting that Navalny’s underpants had been sprinkled with the nerve agent.
Navalny’s allies have pointed the finger at Russian president Vladimir Putin (pictured) after the opposition leader fell ill, but the Kremlin has dismissed the claims
Konstantin Kudryavtsev was one of a team of alleged chemical weapons experts named last week as suspects in Navalny’s poisoning.
The FSB says the call was a fake, and Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Navalny had a ‘persecution mania’.
The Kremlin has said Navalny is free to return to Russia at any time like any other Russian citizen.
Navalny has been a thorn in the Kremlin’s side for more than a decade, exposing what he says is high-level corruption and mobilising protests.
He has been repeatedly detained for organising public meetings, sued over corruption investigations and was barred from running against Putin in the 2018 presidential election.
The 44-year-old has also served several stints in jail in recent years for organising anti-Kremlin protests.
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Russia’s arrests and detention of Navalny in 2012 and 2014 were politically motivated.