In a move reminiscent of Soviet Union, Russian authorities temporarily barred opposition leader Alexei Navalny from leaving the country earlier this week.  Navalny was stopped at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport:

“Border guards are saying that leaving is forbidden for me,” Navalny wrote on Twitter.

“There is some kind of letter that says I am prohibited from leaving, but there is no explanation why.”

The Russian Federal Bailiff service later said Navalny was being prevented from leaving the country over a 2.1 million ruble ($31,000) fine connected to a 2013 conviction.

But the 42-year-old wrote that he had “no unpaid fines” and that “the last time I left the country two weeks ago, everything was ok”.

The politician had posted a photo of the document barring him from leaving Russia that showed the ban had been ordered by bailiffs. Under Russian law, those who have unpaid debts can be blocked from leaving the country.

Lawyers for the anti-corruption campaigner called the bailiffs who told them that they did not order the ban, Navalny said before the federal service’s statement was released.

“We did not receive any official documents on this,” his lawyer Ivan Zhdanov told AFP.

Zhdanov said the document Navalny was given contained spelling mistakes, did not have a date and did not clarify how long the travel ban is in place for.

“We can assume that this decision was thought up on the border itself,” he said, adding that Navalny’s team will appeal the decision.

The campaigner also posted a photo to Instagram of himself at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport, where he said border guards had taken his passport.

This is not the first time Navalny has been harassed or jailed by the authorities who, Navalny maintains, were politically motivated.  In fact, an activist was on his way to Frankfurt, where the European Commission on Human Rights was set to rule that the Russian Federation violated his human rights.  Radio Free Europe put together a handy timeline of abuse of his rights and his those of his family’s:

Navalny, who has a large online following, has been organizing countrywide anti-Putin and anti-corruption (but I repeat myself) street protests since 2011.  He was prohibited from competing in the 2018 Presidential election.

Navalny was eventually permitted to exit the country, but only after he put paid off the alleged fine with borrowed money.  Nevertheless, his treatment at the border rings disturbingly familiar to those who remember the days of the Iron Curtain when Soviet passport-holders had to get government permission to travel abroad. Jews, Armenians, dissidents (not to mention regular people who perhaps would have had an ability to immigrate to another country) were locked in within the physical boundaries of the police state.

Many in the Russian opposition today fear that these days may return, and Navalny himself pointed out “The border is under the lock.  For me, at least”:

In fact, the Russian government can create problems for its citizens wishing to exit the country (I know Russian citizens living in the US, who, for that very reason, are in no hurry to get Russian citizenship for their American-born children). Navalny’s case illustrates that the legal measures used to restrain Russians from leaving their homeland can be politicized.