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Russian opposition leader Navalny back in court as Biden ups pressure on Moscow

Navalny's jailing has added a new irritant to already strained relations between Russia, the United States and its Western allies.

MOSCOW — Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny appeared in court again Friday over a slander case.

President Vladimir Putin's most prominent critic was jailed earlier this week for almost three years for parole violations that he called trumped up, a case that the West has condemned and which has spurred talk of sanctions.

His latest court appearance comes a day after President Joe Biden criticized Russia in his first visit to the State Department on Thursday, outlining that Washington would no longer be "rolling over in the face of Russia's aggressive actions," in an apparent tougher stance towards Moscow than his predecessor.

Biden criticized the "politically motivated jailing of Alexei Navalny," adding that Navalny had been "targeted" for exposing corruption and should be "released immediately and without condition."

The European Union's top diplomat also told Russian authorities on Friday that their treatment of the Kremlin critic represented a low point in ties.

Josep Borrell, the E.U.'s foreign policy chief, began talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday. Ahead of those talks, he said he wanted to broach difficult issues like the Navalny case.

Lavrov said he was ready to engage and complained about the state of E.U.-Russia ties.

He has previously accused the West of double standards over the Navalny case, while the Kremlin has warned it will respond to harsh criticism in kind.

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Navalny was back in court on Friday, accused of slandering a World War Two veteran who took part in a promotional video backing reforms last year that let Putin run for two more terms, if he wants.

Navalny at the time described the people in the video as traitors and lackeys. He denies the slander charges.

In a note from jail Thursday he urged Russians to overcome their fear and “free” the country from a “bunch of thieves.”

Navalny said in a statement posted on his Instagram account that “iron doors slammed behind my back with a deafening sound, but I feel like a free man. Because I feel confident I'm right. Thanks to your support. Thanks to my family's support."

He was arrested last month on his return from treatment in Germany, where he was flown in August after being poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent. The anti-corruption campaigner 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 shows of dissent against Putin in recent years.

Navalny's jailing has also sparked Western calls for his release and added a new irritant to strained relations between Russia, the United States and its allies.

Wider international pressure is also mounting on the Kremlin, with French President Emmanuel Macron calling Navalny's imprisonment a "huge mistake" for the stability of Russia on Thursday.

France, the United States, Britain, Germany and the European Union have called for Navalny's immediate release.

Washington and Moscow disagree on a wide range of issues such as Russia's military ambitions in Ukraine, alleged election interference and last year's cyberattack on U.S. government agencies that Washington blames on Russia.

Despite their disagreements, the two countries earlier this week extended a New START arms control treaty for five years, preserving an agreement to limit deployments of the world's two largest strategic nuclear arsenals.

Lauren Egan, Abigail Williams and The Associated Press contributed.