Navalny Ally Says He Was Close to Freedom

She claims Putin had opposition politician killed after changing his mind about prisoner swap
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 26, 2024 6:20 PM CST
Navalny Ally Says Prisoner Swap Was Planned
A flower and a picture are left as a tribute to Russian politician Alexei Navalny near the Russian Embassy in London, Feb. 18, 2024.   (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)

Alexei Navalny was close to being freed in a prisoner exchange before Vladimir Putin decided to go in a different, deadlier direction, according to Maria Pevchikh, a close Navalny ally. Navalny "could be sitting in this seat right now, right today. That's not a figure of speech, it could and should have happened," Pevchikh, the chair of Navalny's anti-corruption foundation said Monday, per Reuters. She said talks over releasing Navalny and two American citizens in return for a member of the FSB—the successor to the KGB—had almost concluded when Navalny died on Feb. 16 at an Arctic penal colony.

Pevchikh claimed that Putin changed his mind about the deal at the last minute and had Navalny killed because he "couldn't tolerate" his opponent being free. According to Pevchikh, who is based outside Russia, Navalny and the Americans would have been exchanged for Vadim Krasikov, who is serving a life sentence in Germany for the murder of a Chechen dissident. The BBC notes that Putin hinted during his interview with Tucker Carlson that American journalist Evan Gershkovich could be freed in return for someone who, "due to patriotic sentiments, eliminated a bandit in one of the European capitals."

Pevchikh, whose claims were supported by other Navalny allies, said Putin decided to "get rid of the bargaining chip." Politico, citing "two Western officials informed on the discussions," reports that talks for a swap involving Navalny were underway but weren't as advanced as Pevchikh says they were. The sources say US and German officials had been talking about a deal but Moscow hadn't received even an informal offer yet. Reuters, however, reports that Russian sources say an exchange had been agreed "in principle" but details still had to be worked out. (Navalny's body was released to his mother on Saturday.)

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