Navalny Allies Say He Was About to Be Freed in a Prisoner Exchange

Share this

Aides to Aleksei A. Navalny asserted on Monday that the Russian opposition leader had been on the verge of being freed in a prisoner exchange with the West before he died earlier this month.

Western officials were in advanced talks with the Kremlin on a deal that would have released Mr. Navalny along with two Americans in Russian prison, a top aide to the dead opposition leader, Maria Pevchikh, said in a video released on the Navalny team’s YouTube channel.

As part of that deal, Ms. Pevchikh said, Germany would have released Vadim Krasikov, the man convicted of killing a former Chechen separatist fighter in a Berlin park in 2019. Mr. Putin praised Mr. Krasikov in his interview with the former Fox News host Tucker Carlson this month, describing the convicted assassin as having been motivated by “patriotic sentiments.”

Ms. Pevchikh’s assertions about a pending deal could not be independently confirmed. There was no immediate comment from any of the parties reportedly involved in the trade described by Ms. Pevchikh. A Kremlin spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

“Navalny was supposed to be free in the coming days,” Ms. Pevchikh, the chairwoman of Mr. Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, said in the video. “I received confirmation that negotiations were at the final stage on the evening of Feb. 15.”

American officials had acknowledged that German officials were asking for Mr. Navalny to be released in any deal that would have freed Mr. Krasikov, though they did not indicate a deal was close.

Mr. Navalny himself was not aware of the details of the talks but knew his potential release through a prisoner exchange was being discussed, according to his spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh.

“He understood there were some talks going on, but he didn’t know any details,” Ms. Yarmysh said in a text message.

Mr. Navalny died on Feb. 16 at a penal colony in the Arctic, according to the Russian authorities. The medical report on his death says he died of natural causes, according to Navalny aides.

But Ms. Pevchikh asserted in her video that President Vladimir V. Putin had ordered Mr. Navalny’s killing. The reason, she claimed, was that the West insisted on Mr. Navalny’s release as part of any deal to free Mr. Krasikov, whom Western officials describe as a Russian intelligence agent. By killing Mr. Navalny, she said, Mr. Putin took the possibility of his release off the table, and he planned to “offer someone else when the time comes” in order to bring home Mr. Krasikov.

Ms. Pevchikh said that the Russian business tycoon Roman Abramovich had acted as a mediator in the West’s talks with Mr. Putin about a potential prisoner exchange to secure Mr. Navalny’s freedom. A spokeswoman for Mr. Abramovich did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ms. Pevchikh did not identify the two Americans she said would have been exchanged along with Mr. Navalny. At least two Americans behind bars in Russia have been classified as “wrongfully detained” by the State Department: the Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, a corporate security executive and former Marine.

The Navalny team’s new claims came as the plans for Mr. Navalny’s burial remained unclear. Ms. Yarmysh, his spokeswoman, posted to social media on Monday to ask for help in lining up a funeral hall for a service later this week.

“We are looking for a hall for a public farewell to Aleksei,” Ms. Yarmysh wrote. “Time: end of this workweek. If you have suitable premises, please contact us.”

Ms. Yarmysh said on Saturday that Mr. Navalny’s body had been released to his mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, after a dayslong dispute with the authorities over custody of his remains.

Mr. Navalny’s aides say the Kremlin has sought to prevent his funeral from turning into a public event that could attract thousands of mourners. Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, denied that the Kremlin was involved.

“This is absolutely not our issue and not our prerogative,” Mr. Peskov told reporters on Monday. “The head of state does not regulate these issues in any way.”

Julian E. Barnes contributed reporting from Washington.

Source link