Updated Mar 17, 2024 - World

Putin says he agreed to Navalny prisoner swap days before dissident's death

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his press conference at his campaign headquarters, early March,18,2024, in Moscow, Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin has won the 2024 Presidential Elections, hosted on March 15-17.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his press conference at his campaign headquarters early on Monday in Moscow, Russia. Photo: Contributor/Getty Images

Russian leader Vladimir Putin said he had agreed to a prisoner swap involving his staunch critic Alexei Navalny before the opposition leader's death in prison last month.

Why it matters: Putin's comments during a news conference after claiming a landslide win in the country's presidential election on Sunday, as expected, mark the first time he has commented on the dissident leader's death in a Russian penal colony last month.

What he's saying: "A few days before Mr. Navalny passed away, some colleagues told me ... that there was an idea to exchange Mr. Navalny for some people who are imprisoned in Western countries," Putin said in response to a question from NBC News, making a rare direct reference to the opposition leader's name.

  • "You may believe me, you may not. The person who spoke to me hadn't finished his sentence yet, and I said: 'I agree.' But unfortunately, what happened is what happened."

The big picture: The Biden administration blames Putin and other Russian officials for Navalny's death, the circumstances of which remain murky.

  • Reports emerged late last month that Navalny was close to being freed in a prisoner swap when he died. A U.S. State Department official said at the time that it's department policy not to comment on the details of prisoner negotiations.
  • A State Department spokesperson declined to comment on Putin's remarks Sunday.

Go deeper: Putin tells Tucker Carlson he's "ready to talk" on releasing WSJ journalist

Editor's note: This article has been updated with further context and to reflect that a State Department spokesperson declined to comment on Russian leader Vladimir Putin's remarks.

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