President Sauli Niinistö has voiced his bafflement at the mooted justification for the arrest of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. (Vesa Moilanen – Lehtikuva)


RUSSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER Alexei Navalny should be released without delay as there are no legal grounds for his arrest, states Finnish President Sauli Niinistö.

“Navalny’s arrest must be ended as soon as possible. It must be acknowledged at the same time that there is no legal justification for even keeping him under arrest,” Niinistö stated to Helsingin Sanomat on Monday.

Russian security officials arrested the opposition leader as he was returning to Moscow from Berlin, Germany, on Sunday. He had travelled abroad to receive treatment after being poisoned with a nerve agent in Russia on 20 August 2020.

“I’ve understood that he’s specifically under arrest. What’s under consideration is whether the suspended sentence handed to him will be enforced,” said Niinistö.

The sentence is linked to his absence from the country during the suspended sentence. Niinistö told Helsingin Sanomat that Russian authorities have indicated that the opposition leader had to return because the sentencing rules stipulate that he must be present, even though he was originally allowed to seek treatment in Germany.

“Russian President Vladimir Putin in August notified me also by phone that he’ll be allowed to leave. Since he has been given a presidential permission to travel abroad during the suspended sentence, how can it be an offence for him to return to Russia?” he highlighted.

“This is grounds for ending the arrest, releasing him and not enforcing the suspended sentence.”

Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) on Monday joined the growing number of cabinet members calling for the immediate release of Navalny.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto (Greens) told YLE on Sunday that Finland is supportive of a joint statement on the matter from the European Union.

“Finland has expressed its support for drafting a joint statement from the EU. When there are 27 countries, it’ll take time, but it’s important that the EU expresses its joint position. I believe the issue will be discussed in the next meeting of EU foreign ministers at the end of January,” he commented.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT