MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin said Sunday that he agreed with the idea of a prisoner swap involving opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died in prison, and “some people in prison in Western countries.”

“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, who rarely speaks Navalny’s name, said in answer to a question from NBC News.

“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,” Putin added, speaking after he appeared to declare victory in the country’s elections.

Navalny’s supporters have alleged that Putin had him killed to thwart an imminent prisoner swap that would have freed him and two Americans. Five sources told NBC News that such a deal was being negotiated but that it was not imminent when Navalny died Feb. 16 at age 47. 

His death has been widely blamed on the Kremlin.

Putin said the swap would have had one condition — that Navalny never return to Russia.


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