Alexei Navalny prisoner swap deal 'was in final stages when he died'

Alexei Navalny appears on a screen via a video link from the IK-3 penal colony in Kharp in January (REUTERS)
Alexei Navalny appears on a screen via a video link from the IK-3 penal colony in Kharp in January (REUTERS)

Talks to free Alexei Navalny were in the “final stages” when the Russian opposition leader died, an associate has claimed.

Maria Pevchikh, who lives outside Russia, revealed that she had received confirmation about how far the talks had progressed on February 15 - the day before Mr Navalny was reported dead.

“Alexei Navalny could have been sitting here now, today. It's not a figure of speech,” she said in a video statement on Monday.

According to Ms Pevchikh, Mr Navalny and two US 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.

She did not identify the US citizens who 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 US 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.

US commentator Tucker Carlson earlier this month asked President Vladimir Putin about the prospects of exchanging Mr Gershkovich, and Putin said the Kremlin was open to negotiations.

He pointed to a man imprisoned in a "US-allied country" for "liquidating a bandit" who had allegedly killed Russian soldiers during separatist fighting in Chechnya.

Putin did not mention names but appeared to refer to Krasikov.

Ms Pevchikh alleged in her video that Putin "wouldn't tolerate" setting Mr Navalny free and decided to "get rid of the bargaining chip". She offered no evidence to back that claim.

Asked at a regular news conference in Berlin about the claim by the Mr Navalny team, German government spokeswoman Christiane Hoffmann said she could not comment.

Mr Navalny, 47, Russia's most well-known opposition politician, died on February 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 Mr Navalny's death as well as for the invasion of Ukraine, which marked its second anniversary on Saturday.

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