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The Navalny Prisoner Swap Deal That Wasn’t

alexey navalny
There was an idea to include Navalny in a Krasikov swap, but it never materialized beyond that point by the time he died. Photo: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP
Julia Ioffe
March 19, 2024

Late Sunday night, Vladimir Putin decided to speak to his supporters after he successfully stole a fifth term as Russian president. He talked about his “victory” and also did something unexpected: For the first time, he publicly mentioned by name the late Alexey Navalny—a cruel irony, since Putin refused to do this while Navalny was alive. But Putin also caused a bit of a kerfuffle in the Russian opposition. “A few days before Mr. Navalny passed away, some colleagues, not members of the administration, some people there told me that there was an idea to exchange Mr. Navalny for some people who are in prison in Western countries,” Putin said. “The person who spoke to me had not yet finished the sentence, I said: ‘I agree!’” 

He went on to call Navalny’s death “sad” but unremarkable. “We’ve had other occurrences when people left this life in places of deprivation of freedom,” Putin continued, using the Soviet-esque bureaucratese for “dying in jail.” “Has this never happened in the United States? It has!” (A Jeffrey Epstein reference, perhaps.)