Putin says he supported the prisoner exchange with Navalny days before his death

Russian President Vladimir Putin said early Monday that he supports the idea of ​​opposition leader Alexei Navalny being released in a prisoner exchange just days before the death of the man who was his greatest rival.

In his first comments to address Navalny's deathPutin said of the dissident's death: “It happens. There's nothing you can do about it. It's life.”

The remarks were unusual because he repeatedly referred to Navalny by name for the first time in years — and that they came in a late-night news conference with the results pouring in from a late-night news conference. Presidential election His rule is sure to be extended.

Early results showed him leading with more than 87% of the vote in an uncontested race, after years of ruthlessly suppressing dissent and paralyzing independent media.

Navalny's allies also said last month that talks with Russian and Western officials over A A prisoner exchange involving Navalny was underway. Maria Pevchikh, a longtime colleague of the politician, said the talks were in their final stages just days before the sudden and unexplained death of a Kremlin critic in an Arctic penal colony.

She accused Putin of “getting rid” of Navalny so that he would not be replaced, but she did not provide any evidence to support her allegations, and they could not be independently confirmed.

Putin said on Monday, without also providing any evidence, that several days before Navalny's death, “some colleagues, not from the (presidential) administration” told him about “the idea of ​​replacing Navalny with certain people detained in prisons in Western countries.” He said he supports the idea.

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In response to a question from a journalist about Navalny's death, Putin said: “Believe it or not, but the person who spoke to me did not finish his sentence even when I said: I agree.” He added that his only condition was that Navalny not return to Russia.

“But unfortunately, everything that happened happened,” Putin said.

Navalny, 47 years old, Russian The most famous opposition politicianHe died last month while serving a 19-year prison sentence on extremism charges that he dismissed as politically motivated. His allies, family members and Western officials blamed the Kremlin for his killing, accusations the Kremlin rejected.

The politician's associates said officials included “natural causes” in the papers Navalny's mother showed when she was trying to recover his body.

It was Navalny Imprisoned since January 2021When he returned to Moscow of his own volition after recovering in Germany from a nerve agent poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin. He was arrested immediately. The Kremlin strongly denied being behind the poisoning incident.

Pevchikh claimed that there was a plan to exchange Navalny and two US citizens detained in Russia Vadim Krasikov. He was serving a life sentence in Germany for the murder of Zelimkhan “Torniki” Khangoshvili in Berlin in 2019, a 40-year-old Georgian citizen of Chechen origin. German judges said Krasikov acted on orders from Russian authorities.

The identity of the American citizens who are supposed to be part of the deal was not identified. There are several detainees in Russia, including a Wall Street Journal reporter Ivan GershkovichHe was arrested on charges of espionage Paul Whelan, a corporate security executive from Michigan, was convicted of espionage and is serving a long prison sentence. They and the US government doubt the charges against them.

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German officials declined to comment when asked whether Russia had made any effort to swap Krasikov.

Putin had previously said that the Kremlin was open to negotiations regarding Gershkovitch. He referred to a man imprisoned in a “country allied with the United States” for “liquidating a bandit” who allegedly killed Russian soldiers during separatist fighting in Chechnya. Putin did not mention names but appeared to be referring to Krasikov.

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