by Sarah Hurst
In a video published yesterday that attracted global media attention (and has English subtitles), Alexei Navalny described how he found out that Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko had spent time on oligarch Oleg Deripaska’s yacht with escort women in 2016. Navalny followed a trail that started with a group of women dressed as prostitutes invading his campaign headquarters in Moscow last September. One of them, Nastya Rybka, turned out to be Deripaska’s lover and had posted pictures and video of herself on his yacht with Prikhodko on Instagram.
Navalny says Deripaska’s hospitality towards Prikhodko constitutes a bribe, and also drew attention to Prikhodko’s luxurious properties. The two could briefly be heard on a video discussing Russia’s poor relations with the United States and blaming former Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland for them. Deripaska is also notorious for his financial dealings with Donald Trump’s indicted former campaign manager Paul Manafort, and refused to answer questions about them when confronted by CNN last year. Two days ago British media reported that MI6 had concerns over Deripaska’s company EN+ having an IPO on the London Stock Exchange recently.
Kremlin’s grey cardinal
Prikhodko himself is a figure who deserves far more scrutiny than he usually receives. He has managed to maintain a very low profile, but is considered the Kremlin’s “grey cardinal” and was referred to in Rybka’s book as “Papa”. He has worked in Russian government and alongside Putin since the era of Boris Yeltsin. He writes speeches for Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, himself the target of one of Navalny’s biggest corruption investigations. He may have had more of a role in Russia’s efforts to help Trump get elected than more well-known officials such as Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. His association with Deripaska could be another important link in the Trump/Russia investigation.
Navalny also pointed out that Vladimir Putin demanded the resignation of Prosecutor-General Yuri Skuratov after a video of him allegedly having sex with two young women was shown on Russian TV in 1999. Putin should stick to his principles and on this basis fire Prikhodko, Navalny said.
Deripaska threatens to sue
After the publication of Navalny’s video Rybka and Deripaska responded almost immediately. Rybka published a video on Instagram in which she claimed to have been gang-raped on Deripaska’s yacht. She then published another video saying that her claim was a joke, and that she made it to draw attention to how unfair sexual harassment cases can be towards men. Previously Rybka participated in an action in which she and other women protested topless outside the US embassy in Moscow in support of Harvey Weinstein.
Deripaska also took to Instagram to threaten to sue over the claims made in Navalny’s video. “On social media and in the media false accusations about illegal actions supposedly committed by me have been spread,” he wrote. “These statements bear no relation to reality and are the fruits of the imagination of a group of persons and one of the manifestations of a planned and ordered campaign aimed at discrediting my reputation… I will defend my honour and dignity in a legal manner.”
Navalny tweeted that he couldn’t resist writing this comment on Deripaska’s post: “Dear Oleg Deripaska. Apparently it’s me you’re calling a ‘group of persons’. Tell me please, what are you calling false accusations? State official Prikhodko wasn’t on your yacht? He didn’t fly there on your plane? There was no woman there called Nastya Rybka and her colleagues in escort services? The videos from her Instagram are fake? Tell me where the lie is and we will be happy to publish a refutation. Thank you. Yours, group of persons.” Meanwhile, Navalny’s video already has over 1.2 million views on YouTube.
Categories: Campaign diary