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Alexei Navalny was raised in preliminary prisoner swap talks before his death: Official

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(NEW YORK) — After an ally of Alexei Navalny made a bombshell claim that the opposition leader was set to be freed through a prisoner exchange when he died in a Russian penal colony earlier this month, a Western official said his name had, in fact, been raised in discussions about a possible swap — but that those talks were only in early stages.

The official said Navalny came up in conversations between American and German officials about a potential three-country trade including Vadim Krasikov, a convicted Russian assassin serving a life sentence in Germany, and two wrongfully detained U.S. citizens, but that an offer was never presented to Russia.

The Western official also said it was unclear if Germany would have signed off on the arrangement or whether the proposal would have been appealing to Moscow.

A U.S. official also told ABC News that a prisoner exchange involving Navalny was never extended to the Kremlin.

Maria Pevchikh, a close associate of Navalny, claimed in social media posts on Monday that efforts to secure his freedom in a prisoner swap had been underway for years before he died and that negotiations for a deal involving Krasikov and two Americans were “in the final stages” on the eve of Navalny’s death, which the U.S. has blamed on Russian President Vladimir Putin, who denies involvement.

“The negotiations finally reached the final stage — and then Putin decided that since Krasikov was ready to be given, then he would be given without Navalny. Therefore, he decided to kill him,” Pevchikh alleged in a post on Telegram.

There are two Americans considered by the U.S. to be wrongfully detained in Russia: Paul Whelan, a Marine veteran, and Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter. Both are being held on accusations of espionage that U.S. officials say are fabricated.

While the State Department announced that the U.S. had made Russia an offer for Gershkovich’s and Whelan’s freedom in late 2023, an official said on Monday that Moscow had not seriously engaged on the proposal — casting further doubt on claims made by Pevchikh.

“Our work to try to secure the release of Evan Gershkovich and Paul Whelan continues,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said on Monday.

Miller did not detail ongoing efforts to free Whelan and Gershkovich out of concern that any public statement on the matter could disrupt “the very sensitive work” that was underway. He also declined to comment on Pevchikh’s assertions.

“All I will say about this matter is that we have long called for the release of Alexei Navalny, and that was our position on the matter,” Miller said.

A vocal critic of the Kremlin, Navalny died on Feb. 16 in an Arctic prison, where he had been serving a 19-year sentence for extremism charges that he and his allies said were politically motivated.

The exact cause of his death is still unknown, but the U.S. and other Western nations have said they hold Moscow responsible for his demise and sanctioned Russian prison officials and other entities in response.

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