(NEWSnet/AP) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said early Monday that he had supported an idea to release opposition leader Alexei Navalny in a prisoner exchange.

In his first comments to address Navalny’s death, Putin said of the dissident’s demise: “It happens. There is nothing you can do about it. It’s life.”

The remarks were unusual in that Putin repeatedly referenced Navalny by his name for the first time in years — and they came during a news conference as results started to be posted from a presidential election that has extended his rule.

Navalny, 47, Russia’s best-known opposition politician, died last month while serving a 19-year sentence on extremism charges that he rejected as politically motivated. His allies, family members and Western officials blamed the death on the Kremlin, accusations it has rejected.

The politician’s associates said officials listed “natural causes” on paperwork Navalny’s mother was shown when she was trying to retrieve his body.

Navalny’s allies last month also said that talks with Russian and Western officials about a prisoner swap involving Navalny were underway. The politician’s longtime associate Maria Pevchikh said the talks were in their final stages just days before the Kremlin critic’s sudden and unexplained death in an Arctic penal colony.

Putin said Monday, also without offering any evidence, that several days before Navalny’s death, “certain colleagues” told him about “an idea to exchange Navalny for certain people held in penitentiary facilities in western countries.” He said he supported the idea.

“Believe it or not, but the person talking to me didn’t even finish their sentence when I said: ‘I agree,’” Putin said in response to a question from a journalist about Navalny’s death. He added that his one condition was that Navalny wouldn’t return to Russia.

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

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