A deal to free Navalny was in the works before his death, and allies say the timing was no coincidence

Krasikov is highly valued by Putin, who has tried to get him back for years. The U.S. had tried to get Germany to release him in a trade for WNBA star Brittney Griner and Whelan, but Germany refused, the source said. Eventually, the Biden administration traded Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was jailed in the U.S., for Griner.

But the Russians drove a hard bargain, insisting that the exchange had to include only two people, so Whelan was left behind, according to the source.

The difference this time, the source said, was that Navalny had a connection to Germany — where he underwent treatment after a poisoning attempt in 2020 that he blamed on the Kremlin — and trading Krasikov for him could be justified to the German public.

The German government would not comment on the alleged talks, and Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that he was not aware of any swap arrangements.

Putin alluded to Krasikov in an interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson earlier this month, when asked about the possibility of releasing Gershkovich. Putin called Krasikov a “patriot,” without referring to him by name.

But some observers have raised doubts about the Navalny team’s account of Putin thwarting a deal to free him. It’s not clear why the Russian leader might have agreed to such a swap involving Navalny only to “murder him at the last moment to avoid this exchange,” said Sergey Radchenko, a historian and professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

A funeral and a flashpoint?

For days after Navalny’s death in a remote penal colony north of the Arctic Circle, his family and allies were denied access to his body. His mother, Lyudmila, said she was threatened with the possibility that his body would not be returned at all unless she agreed to a secret funeral

Navalny’s body was finally returned on Saturday, and his spokesperson, Kira Yarmysh, suggested the focus would now shift to his funeral, saying they were looking for a venue for a “public farewell” by the end of this week.

But on Tuesday, Yarmysh said they had been struggling to find a venue, with some sites refusing because they are fully booked or as soon as Navalny’s name is mentioned. “In one place, we were told that the funeral agencies were forbidden to work with us,” Yarmysh wrote on X, as she pleaded for suggestions of places to hold the event.

It’s unclear what a funeral for the opposition leader could look like as Russian authorities wage a crackdown on dissent not seen since the Soviet era.

It’s also not clear if Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, would be able to return to Russia for the funeral after her direct accusation that Putin had killed him and her vow to continue his work.


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