Speaking on Thursday, a day after President Vladimir Putin met with his counterpart, Joe Biden, at a summit in Geneva, the Kremlin press secretary said the issue had not been discussed.
Asked by the Echo of Moscow radio station whether Navalny was being considered for a prisoner swap, Dmitry Peskov said that the US team had not raised the issue.
“There was no such conversation and no such proposals were voiced,” he said.
The official added that Russia would be unable to hand over the imprisoned anti-corruption campaigner unless it emerges that he is secretly “a citizen of the US and works for the special services – or, rather, this is confirmed by the Americans.”
In October last year, Navalny said that he would sue Peskov after the Kremlin spokesman implied that he had links to foreign spy agencies.
“Probably, it is not the patient [Navalny] who works for the Western special services, but the Western intelligence services who work with him,” Peskov claimed.
“I can even be specific: these days, specialists from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States of America are working with [Navalny].”
A poll by Moscow’s Levada Center, registered as a ‘foreign agent’ by the Ministry of Justice over links to overseas funding, found that around half of Russians believe Navalny’s alleged poisoning to have been faked. While the activist and his German doctors say he was dosed with the nerve agent Novichok, 30% of those surveyed said the opposition figure staged the event, and a further 19% believed that it was set up by Western intelligence agencies.
In the lead up to the summit in Switzerland, Biden warned that there would be “devastating” consequences if Navalny died in the penal colony where he is currently serving time for violating the terms of his parole.
Asked by the media after the meeting whether his government had begun a “crackdown” against Kremlin critics, Putin said that the anti-corruption campaigner had simply violated his parole and knew he would be arrested on his return to the country.
A number of inmates are reportedly being considered for a two-way transfer since the summit.
Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian airplane pilot, is mooted to be at the top of Moscow’s list after he was arrested and taken to the US in 2011, where he was convicted over drug smuggling allegations.
For the American side, Paul Whelan, a former soldier and IT consultant arrested on espionage charges, is said to be a priority for any exchange. He made a personal video appeal to Biden from behind bars in the run up to the summit, and the American president announced that he had raised the case with Putin.
Another inmate languishing in a Russian prison who Biden discussed with his counterpart was Trevor Reed. A 29-year old former marine, Reed was arrested in Moscow in 2019 and handed nine years in prison for assaulting a police officer after a night of heavy drinking. Both Whelan and Reed deny the charges against them.
According to the Russian leader, the exchange was cordial and not overshadowed by disagreements over issues of domestic politics. “I don’t think there was any kind of hostility,” he added, describing Biden as a “statesman.”