Bild: on the eve of his death Navalny was supposed to be part of prisoner exchange

Alexei Navalny, Russia’s foremost critic of President Vladimir Putin, is reportedly dead. The Russian Federal Penitentiary Service announced this information on Friday, February 16. However, Western media are questioning why news of the supposed death of the key Russian political prisoner has emerged now, reports the German newspaper Bild.

The publication speculates that Navalny could have been exchanged in the coming weeks or months for Vadim Krasikov, who assassinated a former Chechen commander in Berlin's Tiergarten park. Putin himself mentioned the possibility of an exchange during an interview with the American journalist Tucker Carlson.

"The death of Navalny demonstrates just how unstable Putin's system actually is. If the situation were stable, the Kremlin would not need to imprison, torture, and kill its opponents. To the outside world, Putin acts as though he is 100% confident in his power. Yet, this act reveals how much he fears the Russian opposition," said Julius von Freytag-Loringhoven, head of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Moscow from 2018 to 2020.

Although Navalny's closest associates have not confirmed his death so far, Russian and Western experts assert that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is to blame.

"There is no doubt that Putin is responsible for Navalny’s death. The Kremlin launched a poisoning attack against Navalny in 2020, incarcerated him in 2021, and sent him to a penal colony in the Arctic Circle under the most horrendous conditions," Bild emphasizes.

Western experts believe that, on the surface, Navalny poses no threat to Putin in the upcoming elections. However, as reported by Bild, there are rumors of a potential deal: Russia would return the Tiergarten killer, and in exchange, release American journalist Evan Gershkovich and Alexei Navalny. However, analysts think the Kremlin clearly had no desire to engage in such an exchange.

"If the official, that is, manipulated, election results were too divergent from the actual ones, it could spark a new wave of demonstrations and cause doubts about Putin within the power structures," analysts surmise.

They think that the Kremlin calculated that even from prison, Navalny could transform a spark into a flame during the rigged presidential elections, as he had become a symbol of Russian dissatisfaction with Putin.

"He was the main figure at the demonstrations. The only alternative that was not loyal to the system. He certainly did not lack self-confidence," analysts note, recalling Navalny's extensive interview with Bild in 2020.

It was then that Russia’s leading opposition figure stated that he would defeat Putin’s party in a "free and fair election." Experts recall that in the 2013 Moscow mayoral election, Navalny proved he could achieve significant results, securing 27% of the vote.

Bild noted this result was taken as a clear warning by the Kremlin that he would never be allowed to run in an election again.

The publication emphasizes that if the Kremlin's dreadful news of death is true, Navalny leaves behind a wife, two children, and a country that now lacks an opposition leader.

On February 16, Russian Federal Penitentiary Service officials announced that Alexei Navalny died in a penal colony in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District at age 47.

During an appearance at the Munich Security Conference, Navalny's wife, Yulia Navalnaya, stated that she does not know whether to believe the Russian state media's reports of her husband's death.

  Navalny, Russia