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Navalny was to be freed in prisoner swap, ally says

February 26, 2024

The former Russian opposition leader and two US nationals were to be exchanged with a Russian serving prison time in Germany for murder. Meanwhile, the Kremlin has denied pressuring Navalny's mother over his funeral.

Supporters of Alexei Navalny continue to leave flowers and tributes at the makeshift memorial opposite the Russian Embassy in London on February 19, 2024.
The Russian dissident died in prison earlier this month, but the Kremlin has denied involvementImage: Vuk Valcic/ZUMAPRESS/picture alliance

Russian authorities were close to swapping late opposition leader Alexei Navalny, his ally Maria Pevchikh said on Monday.

Pevchick said in a YouTube video that Navalny and two US nationals were due to be exchanged for Vadim Krasikov, a Russian national serving a life sentence in Germany for murder.

Krasikov was found guilty of murdering an exiled Chechen-Georgian dissident in Berlin, in what German judges believed was a Moscow-directed operation.

Navalny ally says dissident was killed before prisoner swap

Navalny was Russia's foremost opposition figure and vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The 47-year-old was serving a three-decade prison sentence. Russian authorities say he died at an Arctic penal colony on February 16.

What did Navalny's ally say about a prisoner swap?

Pevchikh, a Russian investigative journalist, said she had confirmation that negotiations for the prisoner swap were in their final stages on the evening of February 15.

"Alexei Navalny could be sitting in this seat right now, right today. That's not a figure of speech, it could and should have happened," she said.

She did not reveal the identity of the two US citizens she said would have also been freed.

They are, however, believed to be Evan Gershkovich, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, and Paul Whelan, a former US marine. The US administration has been vocal about its efforts to release them.

Pevchikh alleged that Navalny was killed because Russian President Putin could not tolerate the thought of him being free. The Kremlin has denied involvement in Navalny's death.

German chancellor believes 'Russian regime killed Navalny'

A spokesman for the German government told a press conference that Berlin was aware of reports surrounding the planned prisoner swap, but that it could not comment on them.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz later on Monday said that it was his "assumption" that Navalny was killed by the Russian regime.

"It was the Russian regime that killed Alexei Navalny — that's my assumption," Scholz wrote on social media.

"His death is the consequence of a dictatorship, in which people who rebel against the president and the government have to fear for their freedom and their lives." 

Kremlin denies pressuring Navalny's mother

Meanwhile, the Kremlin has denied pressuring Navalny's mother over the dissident's funeral.

Authorities had reportedly threatened his mother, telling her that if she refused to bury the body quietly they would not turn it over, and would instead bury his body at the prison camp.

Russia pressures Navalny's mother for secret funeral

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that "the Kremlin has nothing to do with this, so the Kremlin cannot exert pressure."

"This is another absurd statement by these [Navalny] supporters," he said. "They are almost all wanted [by the Russian authorities] and almost all of them are abroad. Their statements should be treated accordingly."

Peskov also denied that Russian President Putin was involved in any way in the arrangements surrounding the handover of Navalny's body to his mother, which took place last weekend.

"The head of state does not manage these issues in any way. There are certain services and relevant processes that go in accordance with the established rules for such situations," he said.

rmt/rc (AFP, Reuters)