Putin says he supported a prisoner swap for Navalny before his death

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Russian President Vladimir Putin said Sunday that he supported the idea of a prisoner swap for his rival Alexei Navalny just days before his death.

In response to a question from NBC News on Sunday, Putin said he was approached “several days before Mr. Navalny perished” that there was “an idea to exchange Mr. Navalny for some people in prison in Western countries.” He said that he supported the idea, which came from “certain colleagues not from the (presidential) administration,” according to The Associated Press.

“Believe it or not, but the person talking to me didn’t even finish their sentence when I said: ‘I agree,’” Putin said, noting that his one condition was that Navalny never return to Russia, according to the AP.

“But unfortunately, whatever happened, happened,” Putin added.

Navalny, a leader of the opposition in Russia, died while serving a 19-year prison sentence last month. Prison officials said the leader felt unwell after taking a walk and fell unconscious, noting that attempts to revive him were unsuccessful.

Navalny’s allies, his family and global leaders have blamed Putin for the death of the opposition leader. President Biden also blamed Putin for Navalny’s death and had met with his widow and daughter shortly after his death was announced last month.

One of Navalny’s close allies, Maria Pevchikh, said last month that negotiations were in the “final stage” on the night before Navalny’s death to free him in exchange for Vadim Krasikov, a convicted Russian killer serving a life sentence in Germany. Two U.S. citizens being held in Russia were also supposedly part of the deal, she said.

Pevchikh is the chair of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation.

“But why did he [Putin] kill him now? Why Feb. 16? I know the answer to that question, and I have neither the slightest reason nor desire to hide it,” Pevchikh said in a video message last month. 

“Alexei Navalny could have been sitting in my place right now, today. This is not a figure of speech. It could and should have happened. Navalny was supposed to be free in the coming days because we had achieved a decision on his exchange,” she said.

The AP noted at the time that Pevchikh’s claims could not be independently verified.

The Associated Press contributed.

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