State prosecutors in Russia asked a judge on Monday to jail Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny for 30 days, after he was detained the previous evening at a Moscow airport when flying home for the first time since he was poisoned last summer.
The United Nations and Western nations told Russia to immediately free the opposition politician and some countries called for new sanctions. Moscow told them to mind their own business.
Navalny, in a video from inside the police station, called the hearing “the highest degree of lawlessness” and lashed out at President Vladimir Putin, accusing him of throwing the criminal code out of the window in fear.
The Kremlin was expected to comment on his case later on Monday, but usually refers questions about the 44-year-old politician to law enforcement agencies.
Around 200 hundred Navalny supporters gathered outside the police station in temperatures of minus 18 degrees Celsius and demanded he be set free, a Reuters witness said.
Navalny’s detention was ordered by Moscow’s prison service in relation to alleged violations of a suspended prison sentence in an embezzlement case he says was trumped up.
Monday’s court hearing, parts of which were live streamed by Navalny’s allies, may rule for him to be held in custody until a different court decides whether to convert that suspended 3.5 year sentence into real jail time.
State prosecutors asked the court to jail Navalny for 30 days, Ivan Zhdanov, head of Navalny’s ant-corruption foundation, said on Twitter.
Four masked police officers detained Navalny at passport control on Sunday evening, the first time he had returned home after being poisoned by what German military tests showed was a Novichok nerve agent, a version of events the Kremlin rejects.
The rouble weakened as investors weighed the risk of new sanctions against Moscow.
SANCTIONS DEBATE ON MONDAY?
Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia said they wanted the European Union’s foreign ministers to discuss further sanctions against Russia on Monday for detaining Navalny.
A possible target of any new penalties would be Nord Stream 2, a $11.6 billion project to build a natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.
The foreign ministers of Germany, Britain, France and Italy had earlier called for Navalny’s release and Czech Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek had said he wanted the bloc to discuss possible sanctions.
The U.N. human rights office called for Navalny’s immediate release, saying it was “deeply troubled” by his arrest. It demanded due process in line with the rule of law.
The Russian Foreign Ministry brushed off all the criticism.
“Respect international law, do not encroach on national legislation of sovereign states and address problems in your own country,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote on Facebook.
Jake Sullivan, one of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s top aides, told Moscow to free Navalny, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was deeply troubled by the arrest.
Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said Western countries’ expressions of outrage over the detention were designed to distract their citizens from domestic problems and that Moscow was unfazed by potential damage to its image.
“We should probably think about our image, but we’re not young ladies going to a ball,” Lavrov told reporters.
Moscow residents interviewed by Reuters TV were divided on Navalny’s detention, with some showing sympathy but others calling him foolish to come back.
“He probably did the right thing and acted like a real man (by returning),” said one Muscovite, Yuri Elizarov.
“But from a political viewpoint he didn’t, because nothing is probably going to change here in the coming years.”