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Alexey Nalavny lands back in Moscow despite threat of arrest

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny returned to Moscow on Sunday, five months after being poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok and despite being warned that he faced arrest upon his return.

Driving the news: Vnukovo airport — where Navalny was scheduled to land and a group of supporters had gathered — was closed to arriving aircraft shortly before his flight was set to land. He landed instead at Sheremetyevo airport. It's not yet clear whether he'll be allowed to leave the airport.


Flashback: In August, Navalny collapsed on a flight to Moscow from the Siberian city of Tomsk, and was taken to a local hospital before being allowed to travel on to Germany for treatment.

  • German authorities said he'd been poisoned with Novichok, which is developed exclusively by the Russian military. One of the Russian agents involved in the operation was later duped into revealing how the botched operation was carried out — on a call with Navalny himself.
  • The Kremlin has denied any role in the poisoning, but did warn that Navalny would face arrest upon his return to Russia — officially for violating the terms of a suspended prison term he received in 2014.

On the scene: A large police presence awaited Navalny at Vnukovo airport, and several of his aides and supporters were arrested prior to his arrival.

  • The airport was reportedly cleared of all non-passengers, with riot police also on hand.
  • Those steps, in addition to the last-minute change in the arrival airport, undercut the Kremlin narrative that Navalny is a figure of little concern.

The backstory: Navalny made his name as a video blogger and anti-corruption activist. He has organized some of the largest protests against Putin, who refuses to refer to him by name.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Report: U.S. urges UN-led Afghan peace talks and warns of Taliban "territorial gain" threat

Secretary of State Antony Blinken proposed in a letter to President Ashraf Ghani steps including a UN-facilitated summit to revive stalled peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, Afghanistan's TOLOnews first reported Sunday.

Why it matters: Blinken expresses concern in the letter, also obtained by Western news outlets, of a potential "spring offensive by the Taliban" and that the "security situation will worsen and the Taliban could make rapid territorial gain" after an American military withdrawal, even with the continuation of U.S. financial aid.

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Harry and Meghan accuse British royal family of racism

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Why it matters: An institution that thrives on myth now faces harsh reality. The explosive two-hour interview gave an unprecedented, unsparing window into the monarchy: Harry said his father and brother "are trapped," and Markle revealed that the the misery of being a working royal drove her to thoughts of suicide.

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Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla has taken the coronavirus vaccine

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla tells "Axios on HBO" that he recently received his first of two doses of the company's coronavirus vaccine.

Why it matters: Bourla told CNBC in December that company polling found that one of the most effective ways to increase confidence in the vaccine was to have the CEO take it.

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Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse: SEC lawsuit is "bad for crypto" in the U.S.

Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse tells "Axios on HBO" that if his company loses a lawsuit brought by U.S. regulators, it would put the country at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to cryptocurrencies.

Between the lines: The SEC in December sued Ripple, and Garlinghouse personally, for allegedly selling over $1.3 billion in unregistered securities. Ripple's response is that its cryptocurrency, called XRP, didn't require registration because it's an asset rather than a security.

Pfizer CEO: "It will be terrible" if COVID vaccine prices limit access

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told "Axios on HBO" that it "will be terrible for society" if the price of coronavirus vaccines ever prohibits some people from taking them.

Why it matters: Widespread uptake of the vaccine — which might require annual booster shots — will reduce the risk of the virus continuing to spread and mutate, but it's unclear who will pay for future shots or how much they'll cost.

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Lindsey Graham intends to "lean into" climate change during Biden era

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told "Axios on HBO" he intends to "lean into" climate change and that he has already discussed potential common ground with President Biden's special climate envoy John Kerry.

Behind the scenes: In a follow-up interview with Axios, Graham said Kerry called him in November, around the time Kerry's new position was announced, to see if there were openings to work together.

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Lindsey Graham: Trump could make the GOP "stronger" or "destroy" it

Sen. Lindsey Graham told "Axios on HBO" that Donald Trump has a "dark side" but he tries to "harness the magic" because he succeeded where Republican candidates like John McCain and Mitt Romney failed.

Why it matters: The South Carolina Republican gyrates between support and criticism of the former president, even after Trump harshly criticized McCain — Graham's longtime friend — and helped spark the Capitol insurrection.

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Senate plots its own earmark comeback

With the Senate done battling over President Biden's coronavirus rescue package, it's preparing to tackle another priority: earmarks.

Driving the news: Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the top members on the Senate Appropriations Committee, are expected to work out a deal restoring the congressional spending tool in the coming weeks, committee aides tell Axios.

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