‘High price’: Navalny could be traded in Russian prisoner swap deal

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Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny’s name has appeared on a list of detainees held in Russia who could possibly be traded in a prisoner swap with the West.

Navalny, the most prominent dissident leader of Russia’s fragmented opposition, is one of several people Western officials believe could eventually be traded for a Russian hitman imprisoned in Germany, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.Credit: AP

Navalny who has been jailed since 2021 is serving a combined 30-year sentence in a penal colony east of Moscow for what his supporters say are trumped-up charges to prevent him from participating in politics.

Navalny is an anti-corruption campaigner who gained international recognition for his activism and outspoken criticism of the Russian government, particularly President Vladimir Putin.

Putin has signalled a desire to see Vadim Krasikov, who was convicted of the 2019 murder of a Chechen insurgent leader in Berlin, returned from Germany.

Vadim Krasikov is the subject of a proposed prisoner swap.Credit: Berlin Police

“The big question is: will Putin go for it?” wrote French-Russian political scientist Tatiana Stanovaya.

“My guess is that he will, in exchange for Krasikov. Putin is ready to pay a high price for him.”

“But for Putin, Navalny is not an asset, nor is he a threat.”

“He may agree to hand over Navalny for Krasikov, regardless of some concerns that may appear in his circle and among the secret services,” Stanovaya wrote.

In December 2021, Krasikov received a life sentence for his “state-ordered” assassination of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a Georgian citizen of Chechen descent.

Alexey Navalny in St Petersburg in 2012.Credit: AP

Khangoshvili was gunned down by Krasikov in 2019 before onlookers in a Berlin park. Krasikov later ditched the bike he was riding, as well as the weapon and a wig in the Spree River.

Even before his 2021 verdict, Putin had ordered his top security adviser Nikolai Patrushev to explore the possibility of prisoner swap to free Krasikov, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Navalny is not the only one on the list of potential swaps.

Others include ex-US Marine veteran Paul Whelan, held since 2018, on false spying charges, and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, held since March, on similarly specious charges.

Paul Whelan, a former US Marine who was arrested for alleged spying in Moscow in 2018, is another name on the list of potential swap candidates.Credit: AP

Matthew Sussex, adjunct associate professor at Griffith University’s Griffith Asia Institute, said Putin would jump at the offer to swap Navalny for Krasikov.

“It would allow him to paint his chief critic as a stooge of the West,” Sussex said.

“I doubt Navalny himself would go for it but not sure how much say he would have in the matter.”

WNBA star Brittney Griner was held for nearly a year in Moscow after being wrongfully detained. She was released in December 2022 in a prisoner swap for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

Ties between Russia and the West have rapidly deteriorated since February 2022 when Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Western nations have imposed a raft of sanctions on Russia, which has used its influence over energy markets and grain markets to worsen inflation in G7 economies.

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