Russia: Navalny team: Putin received prisoner exchange offer

Russia: Navalny team: Putin received prisoner exchange offer

Alexei Navalny died in a Russian prison camp in mid-February. Now his team says that he should have been released – in return for the Tiergarten murderer being imprisoned in Germany.

“Alexei Navalny could be sitting here today”: Maria Pewtschich says these words in a seven-minute long video that is likely to cause some discussion. The long-time employee of Navalny’s anti-corruption fund explains in the short film published on Monday that the opposition figure who died in a Russian prison camp a week and a half ago should actually have been exchanged for the Tiergarten murderer who was imprisoned in Germany. “Nawalny should be released in the next few days because we had reached a decision to replace him,” she emphasizes.

Accordingly, Vadim K., who was convicted in Germany in December 2021, should have been extradited to Russia – in return for Navalny and two unnamed Americans. A corresponding offer was made to Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin at the beginning of February, says Pewtschich. There was initially no official confirmation of these statements from either the German or the American side. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the London newspaper “Financial Times”: “I am not aware of any such agreements.”

There was neither a confirmation nor a denial of the statements from the deputy spokeswoman for the federal government, Christiane Hoffmann. Instead, she referred to previous statements and said: “I can’t answer this other than that we can’t comment on it.” When asked, she said: “I can’t comment on that at the moment.” Such conversations with the Kremlin ruler’s negotiators – if they really exist – are politically extremely delicate. As far as the legal side is concerned, there are options as formulated in Paragraph 456a of the German Code of Criminal Procedure (“refrain from enforcement in the event of extradition, transfer or expulsion”). The “FAZ” reported, citing Western government circles, that German-Russian negotiations on a prisoner exchange were actually well advanced.

“We really tried everything”

In any case, Navalny’s employee Pevchich’s account goes like this: “I received confirmation on the evening of February 15th that negotiations were ongoing and were in the final stage. Alexei was killed on February 16th.” In the video, she explains that the exchange plans involved around two years of negotiations – with the help of “well-known politicians and the richest people on the planet.” Putin’s confidants were also involved. In the end, the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich submitted the finished proposal to Putin, she says. It is not known what Putin’s reaction was. “We really tried everything,” emphasizes Pewtschich. However, it is not clear from their statements who exactly was supposed to have been involved in drawing up the exchange plans.

Navalny’s supporters, however, are convinced that Putin had his harshest critic eliminated because he did not want to see him free at any price. As far as the Tiergarten murderer is concerned, the Kremlin now has the certainty that the West is fundamentally ready for a prisoner exchange, says Pewtschich. “This is the absolutely illogical, irrational behavior of a crazy mafioso,” she says.

According to an official Russian account, Navalny, who was considered a political prisoner, died on February 16 in a prison camp north of the Arctic Circle. The 47-year-old was very weakened by a poison attack, which he barely survived in 2020, and constant solitary confinement in prison. For this reason alone, his supporters contradict the information on the death certificate, which mentions “natural” causes of death. Instead, they accuse Russia’s power apparatus of murder.

Funeral announced in Moscow

After Navalny’s relatives had to wait more than a week for the body to be returned to the horror of many, a funeral has now been announced for the end of this week in Moscow. It is very questionable whether the Russian power apparatus will really allow this to take place in public – as Navalny’s supporters want. From the Kremlin’s point of view, expressions of grief that could serve to trigger protests are anything but convenient so close to the presidential election on March 17th.

Meanwhile, Chancellor Olaf Scholz also clearly blamed Putin for Navalny’s death. “I, like everyone else, assume that it was the regime that killed him,” said the SPD politician at the dpa editorial conference in chief on Monday. Russia is a dictatorship. “His death is now the consequence of a dictatorship.”

In 2022, Russia had already expressed a particular interest in the release of the Russian Wadim K., who was convicted of the so-called Tiergarten murder. This refers to a murder that was committed in August 2019 in Berlin on a Georgian of Chechen descent in the Kleiner Tiergarten park. The case led to tensions between the governments of Germany and Russia and the mutual expulsion of diplomats. The Berlin Court of Appeal imposed life imprisonment on the Russian perpetrator and found that he had acted on behalf of Russian state authorities.

Moscow brought his case to the table during negotiations about the subsequent release of US basketball player Brittney Griner, if statements from the US at the time are correct. “They have demanded the surrender of a man (…), a murderer who is in custody in Germany,” said National Security Council Communications Director John Kirby in an interview in December 2022. He pointed to particular difficulties because the man is not in US custody.

At the beginning of February this year, statements made by Putin in a highly publicized interview with right-wing US presenter Tucker Carlson caused a stir. “It makes no sense to keep him in prison in Russia,” the Kremlin chief said at the time, referring to the American journalist Evan Gershkovich, who is imprisoned in Russia. The US should think about how it could contribute to a solution, he added. Many observers interpret Putin’s statements as meaning that Vadim K. could be released.

It is not known whether Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, who is also in prison on espionage charges, are the two Americans who, according to Navalny’s team, should have been swapped with the Kremlin opponent for the Tiergarten murderer.

Source: Stern

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