Putin had Alexei Navalny killed to stop prisoner swap, ally claims

The opposition leader’s team says Vladimir Putin was offered the chance to swap his most prominent critic for an FSB officer in mid-February

Tom Watling
Tuesday 27 February 2024 12:00 GMT
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Breaking: Putin critic Alexei Navalny's body handed over to his mother a week after his death, allies say

A plan to swap Alexei Navalny for a Russian FSB officer was in its “final stages” at the time of the opposition figure’s death – and Vladimir Putin killed him as the Russian leader couldn’t stand the thought of him being free, one of Navalny’s allies has claimed.

Speaking on YouTube, Maria Pevchikh, the chair of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, said talks about exchanging Navalny and two unnamed US nationals for Vadim Krasikov, a Russian FSB security service hitman in jail in Germany, were close to completion just a day before the Putin critic’s death.

Navalny died at an Arctic penal colony on 16 February. Western leaders and Navalny’s team have lined up to say Nalvny was killed and Mr Putin was ultimately responsible. Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila, said she was forced into signing a death certificate that stated that he died of natural causes.

“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,” said Ms Pevchikh.

“Navalny should have been out in the next few days because we got a decision about his exchange. In early February, Putin was offered to exchange the killer, FSB officer Vadim Krasikov, who’s serving time for a murder in Berlin, for two American citizens and Alexei Navalny.”

Ms Pevchikh did not name the two US nationals in contention to be swapped along with Navalny but the United States has said it is trying to bring home Evan Gershkovich, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, and Paul Whelan, a former US marine.

Ms Pevchikh said she received confirmation that negotiations for the swap were in their final stages on the evening of 15 February.

She said she was later told that former Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich had offered the proposal to Mr Putin, though the billionaire has denied involvement.

Ms Pevchikh accused Mr Putin of killing Navalny after discovering that Western governments were open to swapping Krasikov for him.

In her video, she described Mr Putin’s thinking as follows: “I can’t tolerate Navalny being free. And since they’re willing to exchange Krasikov in principle, I just need to get rid of the bargaining chip. Then I’ll offer someone else when the time comes.”

It is unclear to what extent Western officials were involved in the proposals to swap Mr Krasikov for Navalny but Ms Pevchikh said US and German officials “had nodded their heads in understanding … made promises then done nothing”.

Lyubov Sobol, another member of Navalny’s team, claimed she had “personally and repeatedly asked European and American politicians and officials to exchange Navalny”. Neither the US nor the German government has commented on these claims.

Ms Pevchikh said Navalny’s allies had been working since the start of the Ukraine war on a plan to get him out of Russia.

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