Navalny prisoner-swap talks were underway when he died, his allies say


Associates of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny said Monday that talks were underway shortly before his death to exchange him for a Russian imprisoned in Germany.

“Alexei Navalny could have been sitting here now, today. It’s not a figure of speech,” Maria Pevchikh, who lives outside Russia, said in a video statement. She said she received confirmation the talks were in the “final stages” on Feb. 15, the day before Navalny was reported dead.

According to Pevchikh, Navalny and two U.S. citizens held in Russia were supposed to be swapped for Vadim Krasikov. He was serving a life sentence in Germany for the 2019 killing in Berlin of Zelimkhan (Tornike) Khangoshvili, a 40-year-old Georgian citizen of Chechen descent.

German judges said Krasikov acted on the orders of Russian authorities, who gave him a false identity, passport and resources to carry out the killing.

Pevchikh didn’t identify the U.S. citizens that were supposedly part of the deal. There are several in custody in Russia, including Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested on espionage charges, and Paul Whelan, a corporate security executive from Michigan, convicted of espionage and serving a long prison sentence. They and the U.S. government dispute the charges against them.

German officials have refused to comment when asked if there had been any effort by Russia to secure a swap of Krasikov.

WATCH | Ukrainian military official cites Russian prison conditions in Navalny’s death: 

Ukrainian military official cites Russian prison conditions in Navalny’s death

Lt.-Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, chief of defence intelligence in Ukraine, told CBC’s Margaret Evans that he believes Russia told the truth about how opposition leader Alexei Navalny died — but stressed Russia’s guilt, saying that keeping Navalny in jail led to his death.

Putin said Russia willing to negotiate

Earlier this month, U.S. commentator Tucker Carlson asked Russian President Vladimir Putin about the prospects of exchanging Gershkovich, and Putin said the Kremlin was open to negotiations. He pointed to a man imprisoned in a “U.S.-allied country” for “liquidating a bandit” who had allegedly killed Russian soldiers during separatist fighting in Chechnya. Putin didn’t mention names, but appeared to be referring to Krasikov.

Pevchikh alleged in her video that Putin “wouldn’t tolerate” setting Navalny free and decided to “get rid of the bargaining chip.” She offered no evidence to back that claim.

Navalny, 47, Russia’s best-known opposition politician, died Feb. 16 in an Arctic penal colony while serving a 19-year sentence on extremism charges that he rejected as politically motivated.

His family spent a week fighting with the authorities, who reportedly insisted on a secret funeral, before his body was returned to them. Prominent Russians released videos calling on authorities to release the body. Western nations have hit Russia with more sanctions in response to Navalny’s death as well as for the invasion of Ukraine, which marked its second anniversary on Saturday.

A Ukraine intelligence official told media yesterday in Kyiv that Navalny had died of a blood clot.

“It’s a completely logical end because we know what the conditions in Russian jails are like,” Lt.-Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, chief of the defence intelligence of Ukraine, told CBC News. “If you’re asking if the Russian federation is guilty for his death, 100 per cent guilty.”

Navalny’s spokesperson Kira Yarmysh said Monday they were looking for a venue for a memorial service later this week.

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