Putin says Navalny’s name for the first time just minutes after declaring victory in sham election

Vladimir Putin has never said Alexei Navalny’s name in public - until now, after he won what is widely considered a rigged election

Tom Watling
Monday 18 March 2024 08:17 GMT
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Vladimir Putin has said the late opposition figure Alexei Navalny’s name for the first time in public just minutes after declaring victory in the rigged Russian presidential elections.

Speaking at his campaign headquarters hours after exit polls predicted he would win more than 87 per cent of the vote in the sham election, Putin described the death of Mr Navalny as a “sad event” - before claiming that he had given the all-clear for the opposition figure to be in a prisoner swap.

Mr Navalny died last month in the Arctic Circle penal colony where was being held on lengthy, trumped up charges of extremism.

The Russian authorities maintain he died of natural causes; Mr Navalny’s allies say he was murdered.

His death came weeks after he urged Russians to vote for anyone but Putin in the presidential elections.

“As for Mr. Navalny,” Putin said, “Yes, he passed away. This is always a sad event.”

In a routine case of Putin whataboutism, he added: “But we have had other cases where people died in prison. Doesn’t that ever happen in the USA?”

Yulia Navalnaya, the widow of Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who died in a prison camp, stands in a queue outside the Russian Embassy on the final day of the presidential election in Russia, in Berlin (REUTERS)

He then said that his officials had passed on an offer to release Mr Navalny in a prisoner swap a few days before he died.

Mr Navalny’s team, in the wake of his death, claimed that Putin had been handed their proposal to swap the opposition figure for Vadim Krasikov, a hitman from the Russian secret service (FSB) who is serving a life sentence in a German jail for murdering an opponent of the Putin regime.

The Kremlin denied this happened when asked about it last month.

But in his speech on Sunday evening, Putin said he “immediately agreed” to the prisoner swap when it was presented to him.

“I immediately said, I agree,” he claimed. “Unfortunately what happened happened. The condition was that he never comes back. It happens. What can you do? That’s life.”

Putin’s comments caused fury among Mr Navalny’s team.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny addresses supporters during an unauthorized anti-Putin rally on May 5, 2018 in Moscow (AFP/Getty)

Kira Yarmysh, Mr Navalny’s spokesperson, posted a segment of Putin’s speech alongside the caption: “Putin killed Alexei Navalny.”

Maria Pevchikh, head of investigations at Mr Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, wrote on X: “I don’t have words yet. What a cynical, lying scum. Unimaginable.”

Critics of the Putin regime have suggested it is telling that the autocrat chose his victory speech to finally utter Mr Navalny’s name.

After the opposition figure died, but before the presidential elections, Kremlin-controlled state media barely reported on his death.

While the result of the elections was never in doubt, the Kremlin had gone to great lengths to quash any possibility of the three days of voting being disturbed. Mr Navalny, more than any other opposition figure, was best placed to incite such disturbance, even from the confines of solitary confinement.

“Putin was afraid and insecure,” says Oleg Kozlovsky, a Russia researcher at Amnesty International and the co-founder of Oborona, a democratic youth movement in Russia. “It is telling that the spell which had prevented him from saying Alexei Navalny’s name was only broken now.”

He called for an international inquiry into Mr Navalny’s death. “We don’t see Russia showing any intent of doing it,” he said.

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