Free Alexei Navalny: EU diplomat urges Russia at rare talks in Moscow

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Russian Opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is accused of flouting the terms of a suspended sentence for embezzlement, makes a hand heart gesture during the announcement of a court verdict in Russia’s Moscow earlier this week. (Photo: AFP)

The European Union’s (EU) foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said on Friday that he has appealed to Russia to free jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

The EU top diplomat said he had brought EU-Russian ties to a low, drawing a robust response from Moscow which called the EU “an unreliable partner”.

Navalny, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic, was jailed this week for almost three years for parole violations he called trumped up.

The move was sharply condemned the West.

Borrell said he had pressed Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov on the Navalny case, and there is no formal proposal for new EU sanctions on Russia yet, but the “27-member bloc would have a discussion next month” about relations between the EU and Russia.

“I have conveyed to Minister Lavrov our deep concern and our appeal for his (Navalny) release and for the launch of a probe over his poisoning… Over the last years our relationship has been marked by fundamental differences and a lack of trust,” Borrell said during a presser on Friday.


Russian Police arrested Navalny this Jan

On his return Germany, where he was being treated after being poisoned, Navalny was arrested at the Russian border on January 17, 2021. The Kremlin critic was flown to Germany in August 2020, after being poisoned, with a military-grade nerve agent.

The Kremlin has questioned whether Navalny was poisoned in August 2020 and has denied any involvement in it “if he was”.

Navalny was back in court on Friday for a slander trial. He is accused of slandering a World War II veteran who took part in a promotional video backing reforms last year that let Putin run for two more terms in the Kremlin after 2024 if he wants.

Navalny at the time described the people in the video as traitors and lackeys. He denies the slander charge.


Veteran being used as a puppet, says Navalny

“This case in general was intended as a kind of PR process because the Kremlin needs the headlines: Navalny slandered a veteran… I find it really disgusting and unbearable… You’ve been using him (the veteran) as a puppet… You’re making a mockery of a 95-year-old man,” he told the court.

In comments by video link at the trial, the veteran called on Navalny to apologise publicly to him, before saying he could not continue taking part in the hearing for health reasons.

Though the charge is currently punishable by up to two years in jail, his lawyers say he cannot face a custodial sentence because the alleged crime was committed before the law was changed to make it a jailable offence.

(With inputs from agencies)