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Navalny killed to prevent swap with convicted Russian hitman, opposition leader's associate claims

by Martin Fornusek and The Kyiv Independent news desk February 26, 2024 2:26 PM 2 min read
Flowers and candles are left at a memorial on Feb. 16, 2024, in front of the Russian embassy in Berlin, after the announcement that the Kremlin's most prominent critic Alexei Navalny had died in an Arctic prison. (John Macdougall/AFP via Getty Images)
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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was killed in prison to prevent his exchange with Vadim Krasikov, a convicted Russian hitman sentenced to life imprisonment in Germany, Anti-Corruption Foundation chair Maria Pevchikh claimed on Feb. 26.

Navalny, Putin's main political opponent, died on Feb. 16 in a penal colony in the town of Kharp, Yamal Nenets Autonomous District. He had been convicted in several fabricated criminal cases as part of the Kremlin's crackdown on dissent.

Leaders around the world have blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for his death. It remains unclear whether the harsh prison conditions caused his death or whether it was an intentional murder.

The German newspaper Bild reported on Feb. 18, citing its sources, that German, U.S., and Russian authorities had discussed the exchange between Navalny and Krasikov.

Speaking in a video published on Navalny's YouTube channel, Pevchikh said she had received information that the negotiations were at a final stage on Feb. 15, only a day before Navalny's death was reported.

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According to the Anti-Corruption Foundation chair, the proposal was conveyed to Putin by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, who has allegedly served as an informal mediator between the West and Moscow. The Russian dictator was told that swapping Navalny was the only way of ensuring Krasikov's return, Pevchikh added.

Realizing that the West was open to exchanging the hitman, the Kremlin's leader had Navalny killed to instead consider swapping Krasikov for somebody else, Pevchikh said. Apart from Navalny, Russia was expected to release two U.S. citizens in exchange for Krasikov, she added, without naming specific people.

The Russian oppositionist did not provide concrete evidence to back her assertions.

Since 2021, Krasikov has been serving a life sentence for the murder of an exiled Chechen-Georgian dissident, Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, in Berlin in 2019. Investigative reports suggested that Krasikov was an agent of Russian intelligence agencies.

The Wall Street Journal first broke the news of a possible exchange in September 2023. Citing unnamed Western officials, the newspaper reported that Russia is pursuing the exchange of Krasikov, naming Navalny as one of those who could be swapped during a potential prisoner swap.

Putin said in a Feb. 8 interview with U.S. political commentator Tucker Carlson that the U.S. could ask their allies to exchange Krasikov for Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich.

Biden says US will impose sanctions against Putin for Navalny death
U.S. President Joe Biden said on Feb. 22 he will announce sanctions against Russian leader Vladimir Putin in response to the death of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.

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