Russia extends deadline for preliminary probe into Kremlin foe Navalny’s death in prison, ally says

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Russian authorities have extended the deadline for a preliminary probe into the still unexplained death of imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, his ally said Wednesday.

Ivan Zhdanov, director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, said on the messaging app Telegram that the deadline has been extended until April 20, which means that “there is still no official information from the government about the cause of death” of President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest foe.

Navalny, 47, suddenly died in February in a remote Artic penal colony, where he was serving a 19-year sentence on extremism charges widely seen as politically motivated. Russia’s penitentiary authorities said the politician “felt unwell” and fainted after a walk in prison yard, but no cause of death has been revealed to date.

According to Navalny’s allies, his mother was shown a medical certificate stating that her son died of “natural causes.” They and Western leaders have blamed the death on the Kremlin, accusations Russian officials have vehemently rejected.

Navalny was buried Friday in a Moscow suburb in a funeral that drew thousands of mourners amid a heavy police presence. The politician had been jailed since January 2021, when he returned to Moscow to face certain arrest after recuperating in Germany from nerve agent poisoning he blamed on the Kremlin.

His team has said that talks with Russian and Western officials about a prisoner swap involving Navalny were underway and reached final stages just days before his sudden and unexplained death. Navalny’s longtime associate Maria Pevchikh accused Putin of “getting rid of” Navalny in order not to exchange him, but offered no evidence to back her claims, and they could not be independently confirmed.

Putin said last month, also without offering any evidence, that several days before Navalny’s death, “certain colleagues, not from the (presidential) administration” told him about “an idea to exchange Navalny for certain people held in penitentiary facilities in Western countries.” He said he supported the idea, adding that his one condition was that Navalny wouldn’t return to Russia.

“But unfortunately, whatever happened, happened,” Putin said.

U.S. officials said there had been no discussions between Russian and the United States over swapping Alexei Navalny with prisoners from the West.

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