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No Navalny prisoner swap was offered to Russia, Western officials say

No Navalny prisoner swap was offered to Russia, Western officials say

No Navalny prisoner swap was offered to Russia, Western officials say

Talks were underway for a prisoner swap for Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny when he died on Feb. 16, according to two Western officials informed on the discussions, but no deal had been offered to the Kremlin.

One Western official, asked if there was a prisoner deal involving Navalny in the works before he died, said “no formal offer had been made, but early discussions to that effect were underway.” The U.S. and Germany were in discussions about forming some kind of deal, the official continued.

Another Western official also confirmed that negotiations were in process, but stressed that not even an informal offer was sent to Moscow.

An ally of Navalny’s posted a video on YouTube Monday claiming that a prisoner swap that would free Navalny had been in negotiations for months before his death. Maria Pevchikh further said that “ by the spring of last year our plan was approved.”

The officials said that there was no plan so far advanced as Pevchikh claimed.

Pevchikh said the deal included Vadim Krasikov, an FSB agent jailed in Germany for murdering a former Chechen commander in 2019, and “two American citizens.” Pevchikh added she had received confirmation late on Feb. 15 that such a swap was going to take place but believed Putin then changed his mind. The Kremlin did not immediately comment on the Navalny team’s allegations.

Navalny died on Feb. 16 while walking around his Arctic penal colony. Russian authorities said Navalny collapsed due to “sudden death syndrome,” a claim the dissident’s allies and some Kremlin experts have argued is a cover for an assassination. The U.S. placed more sanctions on Russia as a result of the opposition leader’s demise.

The officials declined to provide further details on the discussions, including whether Krasikov was part of the talks. The U.S. is focused on securing the release of former Marine Paul Whelan and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, both wrongfully detained in Russia. There’s long been speculation that the U.S would try to convince Germany to release Krasikov in exchange for the pair.

It’s possible the U.S. may also have asked for Navalny to be included in the exchange for Krasikov. German government spokesperson Christiane Hoffmann declined to comment on the issue at a press briefing Monday. The German embassy in Washington also declined to comment.

The German newspaper Bild speculated shortly after Navalny’s death that a prisoner exchange was in the works.

Eva Hartog and Hans Joachim von der Burchard contributed to this report.

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