Kremlin critic Navalny's flight back to Russia 'in holding pattern'

The opposition figure was poisoned in August last year and sought treatment in Germany

epa08943749 A frame grab of Alexei and Yulia Navalnaya taken from a video posted on the Instagram account @navalny shows Russian opposition Leader Alexei Navalny before his flight at the Berlin Brandenburg International Airport BER in Schoenefeld, Germany, 17 January 2021 Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny plans to return to Russia on a scheduled flight to Moscow later in the afternoon on 17 January. He was treated at the Charite hospital in Berlin since 22 August 2020 for being poisoned with a nerve agent from the Novichok group and was discharged from acute inpatient care on 22 September 2020.  EPA/ALEXEI NAVALNY INSTAGRAM
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Prominent Kremlin opposition figure Alexei Navalny risks arrest on his arrival in Russia for the first time since his poisoning last year.

One of President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent domestic critics, Mr Navalny was flown to Berlin in August for emergency medical treatment after being poisoned with what German tests showed was a Novichok nerve agent.

Russian authorities threatened to arrest Mr Navalny if he returned to his home country and on Sunday evening the airline he travelled on announced his plane was "in a holding pattern", Reuters reported.

"This is the best moment in the last five months," he told reporters after he boarded a plane in the German capital, bound for Moscow. "I feel great. Finally, I'm returning to my home town."

Mr Navalny was charged and convicted of embezzlement and money laundering in 2014 and handed a suspended sentence – but the European Court of Human Rights ruled the charges "unlawful".

He is the subject of three other criminal cases in Russia, all of which he claims are politically motivated.

Security measures at Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport were tightened and journalists barred from covering his arrival, apparently due to coronavirus concerns.