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Navalny was about to be swapped for a Russian prisoner in Germany, an associate says

A flower and a picture are left as a tribute to Russian politician Alexei Navalny, near the Russian Embassy in London, Feb. 18.
Kirsty Wigglesworth
/
AP
A flower and a picture are left as a tribute to Russian politician Alexei Navalny, near the Russian Embassy in London, Feb. 18.

Associates of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny said Monday that talks were underway shortly before his death to exchange him for a Russian imprisoned in Germany.

"Alexei Navalny could have been sitting here now, today. It's not a figure of speech," Maria Pevchikh, who lives outside Russia, said in a video statement. She said she received confirmation the talks were in the "final stages" on Feb. 15, the day before Navalny was reported dead.

Her claims could not be independently confirmed and she did not offer any evidence to back them up.

According to Pevchikh, Navalny and two U.S. citizens held in Russia were supposed to be swapped for Vadim Krasikov. He was serving a life sentence in Germany for the 2019 killing in Berlin of Zelimkhan "Tornike" Khangoshvili, a 40-year-old Georgian citizen of Chechen descent. German judges said Krasikov acted on the orders of Russian authorities, who gave him a false identity, passport and resources to carry out the killing.

She didn't identify the U.S. citizens that were supposedly part of the deal. There are several in custody in Russia, including Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich arrested on espionage charges, and Paul Whelan, a corporate security executive from Michigan, convicted of espionage and serving a long prison sentence. They and the U.S. government dispute the charges against them.

German officials have refused to comment when asked if there had been any effort by Russia to secure a swap of Krasikov.

U.S. commentator Tucker Carlson earlier this month asked President Vladimir Putin about the prospects of exchanging Gershkovich, and Putin said the Kremlin was open to negotiations. He pointed to a man imprisoned in a "U.S.-allied country" for "liquidating a bandit" who had allegedly killed Russian soldiers during separatist fighting in Chechnya. Putin didn't mention names but appeared to refer to Krasikov.

Pevchikh alleged in her video, without offering evidence, that Putin "wouldn't tolerate" setting Navalny free and decided to "get rid of the bargaining chip."

Asked at a regular news conference in Berlin about the claim by the Navalny team, German government spokesperson Christiane Hoffmann said she couldn't comment.

Navalny, 47, Russia's best-known opposition politician, died Feb. 16 in an Arctic penal colony while serving a 19-year sentence on extremism charges that he rejected as politically motivated.

His family spent a week fighting with the authorities, who reportedly insisted on a secret funeral, before his body was returned to them. Prominent Russians released videos calling on authorities to release the body. Western nations have hit Russia with more sanctions in response to Navalny's death as well as for the invasion of Ukraine, which marked its second anniversary on Saturday.

Navalny's spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said Monday they were looking for a venue for a memorial service later this week.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press