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US intelligence officials don’t think Putin directly responsible for Alexei Navalny’s death

US intelligence officials do not think Russian President Vladimir Putin is responsible for the death Alexei Navalny, according to a report slammed by one critic as “absurd.”

Alexei Navalny was found dead in a notorious Arctic penal colony in February, sparking worldwide outrage over the loss of the opposition leader who was widely seen as Putin’s strongest critic.

But various US agencies — including the Central Intelligence Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the State Department’s intelligence unit — agree Russia’s strongman is likely not directly to blame, people familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal.

Vladimir Putin at a desk, wearing a blue suit with blue tie, holding papersThe findings that Putin likely didn’t order Navalny’s February death was based on classified intel and an assessment of public information. via REUTERS

The conclusion is based on classified details as well as public available information, including the timing of Navalny’s death and how it overshadowed Putin’s re-election in March, the outlet reported. 

The findings have been shared with a number of European intelligence agencies, but some nations are still skeptical that Putin didn’t have a direct role in Navalny’s death, given his tight grip over Russia, the Wall Street Journal reported.  

Leonid Volkov, a Navalny ally, blasted the US intelligence agencies’ assessment, calling it absurd. 

American spy agencies “clearly do not understand anything about how modern day Russia runs,” Volkov told The Journal. “The idea of Putin being not informed and not approving killing Navalny is ridiculous.”

Navalny, a lawyer and married father of two, collapsed and died during a Feb. 16 walk in the penal colony, Russia’s prison service claimed at the time. Putin has said he did not have Navalny killed. 

Alexei Navalny making a heart symbolNavalny died while serving prison sentences totaling over 30 years on charges he and his supporters said were bogus. AP

Navalny had been serving three prison sentences, totaling more than 30 years, on charges he and his supporters slammed as bogus.

His death prompted a global outpouring of grief, along with 500 new sanctions by the United States to punish Moscow. It also came as Russia and Western officials had negotiated a prisoner swap involving him and the jailed Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich. 

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment to The Journal on the matter.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on Saturday batted down The Journal’s report. 

“I would not say that this is high-quality material that deserves any attention,” he said, according to the state news agency Tass.  “Some very empty reasoning. Apparently, they were planted for Saturday reading for the world audience.”

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