Seen from the outside, developments since Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny boarded a Moscow-bound plane in Berlin on Jan. 17 resemble the cruelest, crudest form of slapstick.

Navalny supporters gather at the destination airport, Vnukovo. After a failed attempt to keep them out by flooding the airport with fans of a pop singer also flying into Vnukovo, the authorities divert the plane to another airport, Sheremetyevo. (The singer’s plane and several others are directed there, too: collateral damage).

Meanwhile, Navalny’s supporters at Vnukovo are rounded up by riot police. At Sheremetyevo, Navalny is allowed to get as far as passport control. The dozens of journalists who came on Navalny’s flight film his every step. As soon as the opposition politician crosses the Russian border, a group of people in police uniforms demand he come with them but refuse to let his lawyer, who was also on the flight, accompany him because they claim she had not crossed the border into Russia yet.