Navalny team says prisoner swap was close before his death

Published February 27, 2024
In this Saturday, July 20, 2019, file photo, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny attends a protest in Moscow, Russia. — AP
In this Saturday, July 20, 2019, file photo, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny attends a protest in Moscow, Russia. — AP

WARSAW: Allies of late Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny said on Monday that a deal to free him as part of a prisoner swap had nearly been reached when he died in prison.

The 47-year-old Kremlin critic died on Feb 16 in an Arctic prison after spending more than three years behind bars, prompting outrage and condemnation from Western leaders and his supporters.

Russian President Vladimir Putin “was offered to exchange FSB officer and killer Vadim Krasikov, who is serving time for murder in Berlin, for two American citizens and Alexei Navalny,” ally Maria Pevchikh said.

“I have received confirmation that negotiations were underway and were at the final stage” after two years of talks between Moscow, Washington and Berlin, she added.

Rights campaigner calls Russia ‘fascist’ in court

“Navalny was supposed to be released in the coming days,” she added. Asked about the claims during a regular briefing, the German government spokeswoman declined to comment, as did the German foreign minister.

Krasikov is serving a life sentence in Germany for the 2019 killing of former separatist commander Zelimkhan Khangoshvili in a Berlin park, which German authorities say was ordered by Russian intelligence services.

Washington has accused Moscow of arresting American citizens on baseless charges to use them as bargaining chips to secure the release of Russians convicted abroad.

Among US citizens detained in Russia are former marine Paul Whelan and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, both accused of espionage.

‘Russian regime’

News of a purported prisoner swap came as questions continued to swirl over the circumstances of Navalny’s death, which Western countries have blamed on the Kremlin. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the “Russian regime” was responsible.

“His death is the consequence of a dictatorship in which people who rebel against the president and the government have to fear for their freedom and their lives,” he said on social media.

Leaders of the G7 nations called on Russia to “fully clarify” how the Kremlin critic, who suffered increasingly deteriorating conditions in his confinement, came to die.

Navalny’s body was finally handed to his mother Lyudmila Navalnaya, more than a week after he died in a remote Arctic prison colony. His team said previously the Kremlin was trying to block a public funeral, which could turn into a show of support for Navalny’s movement and his opposition to Putin.

The Russian leader, who famously never said Navalny’s name in public, has not commented on the death of his most vocal critic.

Rights campaigner

Veteran human rights activist Oleg Orlov decried what he called the “strangulation of freedom” in Russia at a court hearing on Monday as prosecutors sought to have him jailed for nearly three years for discrediting the armed forces.

Orlov, 70, has served for more than two decades as one of the leaders of the Memorial human rights organisation, which won a share of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022 a year after being banned and dissolved in Russia.

Published in Dawn, February 27th, 2024

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