Navalny team claims Putin killed Navalny to thwart prisoner swap – National & International News – MON 26Feb2024



A Navalny ally claims that Putin killed Navalny to thwart a prisoner swap. The Financial Times reports that Americans Evan Gershkovich and Paul Whelan were to be part of that swap.



Navalny team claims Putin killed Navalny to thwart prisoner swap

Since the death of Putin critic Alexei Navalny in a Siberian prison 10 days ago, US officials and Navalny’s supporters have leapt to the conclusion that he was murdered. Last week, Navalny’s mother was allowed to see his body in a city morgue and later claimed authorities were attempting to “blackmail” her into having a private funeral. Following an outcry, the authorities have now released Navalny’s body to his mother. A medical report seen by Navalny’s mother said Navalny had died of “natural causes”.

Navalny suffered periods of ill-health while in Russian custody. He was still suffering the after effects of a nerve agent poisoning in 2020, and went on a 24-day hunger strike in 2021 while in custody. Last year, a spokeswoman said Navalny was suffering stomach pains in prison and was not eating. However, Navalny’s team said that he appeared healthy in a video conference the day before his death.

Novaya Gazeta, a Russian-language pro-Western newspaper published in Latvia, reported bruises on Navalny’s body consistent with restraint during a seizure and attempts at heart massage. There do not appear to be any plans for an independent autopsy to pinpoint Navalny’s cause of death.

Yesterday, Ukrainian military intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov told reporters that Navalny died of a blood clot. “I may disappoint you,” Budanov said, “but as far as we know, he indeed died as a result of a blood clot. And this has been more or less confirmed”. 

Some have wondered what Putin had to gain from Navalny’s death politically, so close to an election and at the very moment when the US Congress is weighing sending more military aid to Ukraine to fight back against Russia’s invasion. Navalny’s team claims to have the answer.

“Absolutely illogical”

According to Navalny ally Maria Pevchikh, Putin had Navalny killed in order to thwart a prisoner swap. The swap would have released Vadim Krasikov, a Russian secret service hitman currently in German custody, in exchange for Navalny and two well-known American political prisoners in Russian custody (more on that below).

In a 7-minute English-subtitled video uploaded today to Alexei Navalny’s YouTube channel, Pevchikh says she received confirmation that negotiations on the prisoner swap were at “the final stage” the day before Navalny’s death. However, Pevchikh alleges, Putin changed his mind at the last minute and decided to kill Navalny instead and offer someone else for Krasikov. Why? Because Putin had “gone made with hatred for Navalny. Putin hates him so much that he acts to his own detriment and against his own rational interests. After all, Putin knows for sure that Alexei Navalny could have defeated him”.

Pevchikh said of Putin’s decision to kill Navalny, “It’s absolutely illogical, absolutely irrational, the behavior of a mad mafioso”. Not to say, non-sensical.

No “political will” to release Navalny

Other than being “mad with hatred for Navalny”, Pevchikh offers no explanation for why Putin didn’t simply refuse to release Navalny, if indeed he did change his mind at the last moment. Her account of the long road to finalizing these negotiations suggests Putin could have done so and paid no political price for it.

Pevchikh says international partners offered little support for efforts to release Navalny, at least initially. If this “political will” had been present, she adds, this exchange would have taken “months, not years” to put together. When her team approached American and German officials, they “nodded understandingly, talked about how important it was to help Navalny and political prisoners, shook hands, promised, and did nothing”. Even the late former US diplomat Henry Kissinger was apparently not sufficiently moved to help.

Pevchikh says her group’s efforts to release Navalny became more “urgent” after the start of the Ukraine war, though she doesn’t explain why. Neither does she elaborate on whether the invasion did anything to overcome the apathy of foreign allies. Through “mutual acquaintances”, Pevchikh claims she instead reached out to Roman Abramovich, a Russian oligarch close to Putin who also has significant financial interests in the West. Abramovich put the proposal to Putin himself, Pevchikh says, and Putin agreed.

Navalny’s death has certainly done little to serve Putin’s interests. Last week, President Biden announced 500 new US sanctions against Russia, some of them as a direct consequence of Navalny’s death. Putin is also now dealing with renewed unrest in Russia that would not have arisen had he quietly withdrawn his consent for Navalny’s release as part of these secret negotiations.

Gershkovich and Whelan

According to the Financial Times, the two US nationals that were to be part of Navalny’s exchange were none other than Evan Gershkovich and Paul Whelan. Gershkovich is an American reporter for the Wall Street Journal. He has been imprisoned in Russia since March of 2023 on espionage charges. Paul Whelan is a Canadian-American former US Marine and security director for an automotive parts manufacturer. Whelan has been imprisoned in Russia since December of 2018, also on espionage charges. 

During his recent interview with Tucker Carlson, Putin stated that talks were underway for a prisoner exchange for Gershkovich, and that he might be traded for a person whose case details closely match Vadim Krasikov’s. FT’s anonymous US and German government sources seem to verify that deal along these lines was in the works.

Navalny had a large following in Germany and now that he is dead, Germany has lost interest in releasing Krasikov, according to FT. An anonymous US official said the Germans “no longer have anyone in mind they feel it would be worth swapping a state-sponsored murderer for,” referring to Krasikov. “They don’t have a poster child they’re looking to get out”. 

The FT report suggests that the US had not yet made a formal offer, and that no such offer was likely forthcoming following Navalny’s death. If true, this would seem to contradict Pevchikh’s account that negotiations were at a “final stage” on the eve of Navalny’s death. It’s also unclear what impact Pevchikh’s public disclosures will have on the sensitive diplomatic efforts to release Gershkovich and Whelan. 


Click here for Maria Pevchikh’s full video (7 mins with English subtitles; opens in new tab).

Further reading: Uncomfortable truths about Alexei Navalny’s racist politics and US “human rights” hypocrisy.



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