Navalny was close to prisoner exchange when he died, says aide

Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich said to have been involved in exchange talks which had reached a ‘final stage’ after two years of negotiation

Alexei Navalny had been close to release in a prisoner exchange with the US and Germany shortly before his death in an Arctic prison, a top aide to the Russian opposition leader said. “Navalny was supposed to be freed in the coming days,” Maria Pevchikh said in a video statement posted Monday. Russian president Vladimir Putin was offered an assassin imprisoned in Germany in exchange for Navalny and two US citizens, she said.

Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich was involved in the talks, which had reached a “final stage” after two years of negotiation on the eve of Navalny’s February 16th death, according to Ms Pevchikh. She accused Putin of ordering the killing of Navalny because he was unwilling to let his most outspoken critic go free.

According to the video account, the swap involved Vadim Krasikov, who has links to Russia’s Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, and is serving a life sentence in Germany for the 2019 killing of a former Chechen rebel in a Berlin park. Ms Pevchikh did not name the two Americans involved in the deal.

“I know nothing about this agreement,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a Telegram message, in response to a request to comment. US officials and a spokesman for Mr Abramovich did not immediately respond to requests to comment. Germany’s foreign ministry declined to comment.


“Putin was clearly told that the only way to get Krasikov is to exchange him for Navalny,” said Ms Pevchikh. Instead, he decided to “get rid of the bargaining chip” and “offer someone else when the time comes”.

The US and Russia have been in talks on a swap involving Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich and businessman Paul Whelan. Gershkovich has been held in a Moscow jail since March last year after the FSB detained him on spying allegations while he was on assignment in Yekaterinburg. Gershkovich and the newspaper deny the charges.

Whelan, a former US Marine, was sentenced to 16 years in 2020 on spying charges he denies.

US president Joe Biden has laid responsibility on Mr Putin for the death of 47-year-old Navalny. Prison authorities said the Kremlin critic fell ill after a walk in the remote prison camp, though they refused to allow Navalny’s family or lawyers to view the body for days. They turned over Navalny’s body to his mother Lyudmila on Saturday after she had accused Russian authorities of pressuring her to agree to a secret burial.

Mr Putin told conservative US commentator Tucker Carlson in an interview this month that talks on swapping Gershkovich were under way, and hinted that he wanted Krasikov in return, without naming him.

The US state department said in early December it made a “new and significant” proposal to Russia for the release of Gershkovich and Whelan, but Moscow had rejected the offer.