US intelligence believes Putin probably didn’t order his rival Navalny’s killing, report claims

The CIA and other agencies don’t, however, ‘dispute Putin’s culpability’ for the opposition leader’s death

Arpan Rai
Saturday 27 April 2024 15:07 BST
Alexei Navalny’s wife shares touching tribute to husband

US intelligence agencies are said to have concluded that Vladimir Putin probably did not directly order the killing of his most prominent critic Alexei Navalny, who suddenly died in his Arctic prison cell in February.

The death of 47-year-old Mr Navalny, leading light of Russia’s opposition movement, was announced on 16 February. He had been serving a prison sentence on charges of extremism, which the international community decried as trumped up to try and silence a thorn in the side of the Kremlin. World leaders have lined up to condemn the death, while a number of nations – including the UK and the US – have announced sanctions against those in charge of the prison in which Mr Navalny was held.

Mr Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnya, has directly accused Putin of ordering Navalny’s killing, which came a month before a sham presidential election that handed Putin another term in power – extending his more than two-decade iron grip on Russia.

But, according to The Wall Street Journal, US intelligence services believe Putin most likely did not choose for the killing to be carried out or the date on which it took place.

While the findings by US intelligence agencies did not “dispute Putin’s culpability” for his rival’s death – given the conditions Mr Navalny was being held in and the constant harassment he had faced – the report said it is believed that he “probably did not order it at that moment”.

These findings have been accepted within the intelligence community and shared across several wings of intelligence in Washington, including the Central Intelligence Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the State Department’s intelligence unit, the WSJ reported, citing people aware of the matter.

Navalny, who was repeatedly targeted by the Kremlin and Russian authorities for years, was moved in December from his former prison in the Vladimir region of central Russia to a “special regime” penal colony in the Arctic Circle – the highest security level for prisons in Russia.

A Navalny aide, Leonid Volkov, rejected the findings in the WSJ report as “naive and ridiculous”.

Washington’s assessment was reportedly based on a range of information, including some classified intelligence as well as publicly known facts, such as the timing of Navalny’s death and how it overshadowed Russia’s sham presidential election.

Officials in the Kremlin have rejected allegations of state involvement in Mr Navalny’s death. Having not spoken his harshest critic’s name for years, Putin himself eventually described the death as “sad” and claimed he was ready to hand the jailed politician over to the West in a prisoner exchange provided Navalny never return to Russia. Observers may be sceptical about Putin’s words, given how the Kremlin dealt with Mr Navalny over the years.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has responded to the WSJ report, calling the US intelligence findings “empty speculation”.

"I’ve seen the material, I wouldn’t say it’s high-quality material that deserves attention," he said.

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