April 12, 2024

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Putin breaks his silence on Navalny's death and describes it as an “unfortunate accident”

Putin breaks his silence on Navalny's death and describes it as an “unfortunate accident”

President Vladimir Putin described the death of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei A. Navalny called it an “unfortunate incident” and claimed he was willing to be released in exchange for Russian prisoners held in the West.

At a news conference after the Russian presidential election, Putin said that “some people” had told him before Mr. Navalny’s death “that there was an idea to exchange Mr. Navalny for some people detained in correctional facilities in Western countries.”

“I said: I agree,” Putin said. “Only one condition: we will trade him but make sure he doesn't come back, and let him stay there.”

He added: “But it happens.” that's life.”

The comments, in response to a question from NBC News, were Mr. Putin's first on Mr. Navalny's death in an Arctic penal colony — and a rare moment, if not the first, when the Russian president has spoken Mr. Navalny's name in a year.

Aides confirmed to Mr. Navalny after his death that he was about to be released in a prisoner exchange. A Western official told the New York Times at the time that “early discussions” about the possibility of such an exchange were underway when Russian authorities reported Navalny’s death on February 16.

The Western official said discussions included swapping Navalny with two Americans imprisoned in Russia — Ivan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter, and Paul Whelan, a corporate security executive and former Marine — in exchange for Vadim Krasikov. Mr Krasikov, who is currently imprisoned in Germany, was convicted of the murder of a former Chechen separatist fighter in Berlin in 2019.

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“This is a sad event,” Mr. Putin said of Mr. Navalny’s death. “But we've had other cases where people have died in correctional facilities. And what, hasn't this happened in the United States as well?”

While Navalny was alive, Putin's distaste for him was so great that he did not mention his name publicly, according to the Kremlin's archive of Mr. Putin's interviews and speeches.

Mr. Navalny nearly died in 2020 after being poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent during a trip to Siberia. Western officials described the poisoning as an assassination attempt by the Russian state.