MOSCOW – Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny reappeared in court on Friday on charges of defamation.
President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic was jailed for nearly three years earlier this week for suspected parole violations he described as trumped-up, a case the West has condemned and which has spurred talk of sanctions.
His most recent appearance in court comes the day after President Joe Biden criticized Russia on his first visit to the State Department on Thursday, arguing that Washington would no longer “roll over” “in the face of Russia’s aggressive actions” with an obviously tougher stance than Moscow his predecessor.
Biden criticized the “politically motivated prison of Alexei Navalny”, adding that Navalny was “targeted” for exposing corruption and “should be released immediately and unconditionally”.
The top diplomat of the European Union informed the Russian authorities on Friday that their treatment of the Kremlin critic represented a low point in relations.
Josep Borrell, the head of foreign affairs in the European Union, started talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday. Before these talks, he said he wanted to bring up difficult issues like the Navalny case.
Lavrov said he was ready to get involved and complained about the state of relations between the European Union and Russia.
He has previously accused the West of double standards over the Navalny case, while the Kremlin has warned that it will respond to sharp criticism.
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Navalny was back in court on Friday, accused of slandering a World War II veteran who last year participated in a promotional video support reform that allowed Putin to run two more terms if he wanted.
Navalny described the people in the video as traitors and lackeys. He denies the libel allegations.
In a note from prison on Thursday, he urged Russians to overcome their fear and “rid” the country of a “bunch of thieves”.
Navalny said in a statement on his Instagram account that “Iron doors slammed behind my back with a deafening sound, but I feel like a free man. Because I am confident that I am right. Thanks for your support. Thanks to the support of my family. “
He was arrested last month after returning from treatment in Germany, where he was flown in August, after being poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent. The anti-corruption activist has accused Putin of ordering the attack. Moscow denies Navalny’s charges.
Since his return, Navalny supporters have taken to the streets across Russia in one of the biggest dissent shows against Putin in recent years.
Navalny Prison has also sparked Western demands for his release, adding a fresh impetus to tense relations between Russia, the United States and their allies.
International pressure on the Kremlin is also increasing. French President Emmanuel Macron described the arrest of Navalny as a “big mistake” for the stability of Russia on Thursday.
France, the United States, Great Britain, Germany and the European Union have called for Navalny to be released immediately.
Washington and Moscow disagree on a myriad of issues including Russia’s military ambitions in Ukraine, alleged election meddling and the cyberattack on US government agencies last year that Washington accuses Russia of.
Despite their disagreements, the two countries extended a new START arms control treaty for five years earlier this week, maintaining an agreement to limit the use of the world’s two largest strategic nuclear arsenals.
Lauren Egan, Abigail Williams and The Associated Press contributed.