MOSCOW—In Russia, 50-year-old Oleg Deripaska is known as the winner of some brutal crime wars that left him a billionaire aluminum magnate and President Vladimir Putin’s favorite industrialist.
When it comes to the Trump-Russia collusion investigation, Deripaska, whose fortune is estimated at $5.1 billion, has attracted a lot of attention because of his links to former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.
According to a report in The Washington Post last September, Manafort owes Deripaska $19 million and, only two weeks before Trump accepted the nomination as the Republican presidential candidate in July 2016, offered to brief Deripaska on the U.S. race.
Last May, Deripaska allegedly offered to cooperate with the congressional investigations of Russian meddling, in which Manafort is a leading suspect. But the committees would not grant him full immunity out of concern, at the time, that it might muddy the Department of Justice investigations.
Now, thanks to inquiries by corruption-fighting opposition leader Aleksei Navalny and revelations by a call girl calling herself “Nastya Rybka, oligarch huntress,” Deripaska’s biography has added a new chapter of sleaze that might in fact form part of the trail to Trump.
On Thursday, Navalny published an exposé on YouTube describing Deripaska’s three-day long yacht voyage in 2016 in the company of his petite, pouty girlfriend-model-sex-worker Rybka and Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko, who is the Kremlin’s most influential official with regard to foreign relations, albeit with one of the lowest profiles.
Navalny suggests that the Manafort, Deripaska, Prikhodko connection is the centerpiece of Trump campaign collusion with the Kremlin. But Navalny’s tongue-in-cheek delivery does not strengthen his case. The Trump link is offered, as he puts it, for “dessert” after a lengthy tale of call girls and corruption.
The Navalny video, helpfully (and sometimes playfully), includes English subtitles as the would-be (but banned) presidential candidate looks into the camera with his bright blue eyes and lays out his case.
Navalny gave it the title: “Yachts, Oligarchs, Girls: A Huntress for Men Exposes a Bribe-Taker.”
Over the course of 25 minutes, he tells of a group of scantily clad women sent to “attack” his headquarters, apparently to embarrass him. Instead, he chose to be amused, and to find out more about them. Seems they are a hired hit team, of sorts. One of their recent antics: protesting nude in front of the U.S. embassy, bodies bared to freezing cold as they presented banners saying “I Love You Harvey” and “Weinstein Is a Real Man.” (One wonders, naturally, if this group or one like it was ever invited to the presidential suite at the Ritz to urinate on the bed where Michelle and Barack Obama had slept—but Navalny’s investigation doesn’t go there.)
Navalny’s team focused on one of those women particularly: Nastya Rybka. As seen in his YouTube presentation, she posted an Instagram video threatening, if that is the word: “Alex, one of us will find you and f*** you and post the video of it on the internet. Because of you and those like you, people keep fighting wars now.”
The Kremlin immediately made a decision to ban Navalny’s video, claiming it contained classified secret information; and Deripaska filed a complaint in court against Nastya Rybka for leaking videos and recordings from his private yacht.
It’s a bit late for that.
Much of the Navalny video is based on Rybka’s already published Instagram photos and a tell-all book she published last year, The Diary of How to Seduce a Billionaire, as an ostensible guide to bedding oligarchs. Her photographs of Deripaska and Prikhodko on Deripaska’s yacht sailing around Norway in the summer of 2016 were verified in detail by Navalny’s team, as shown in his video. So is the audio recording of an alleged conversation including Prikhodko and Deripaska talking in front of Rybka about relations with the United States.
In it, Deripaska mocked former Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland, who apparently had cordial relations with Prikhodko. Deripaska described Nuland, perhaps ironically, as Prikhodko’s friend, and explained to Rybka that Nuland was responsible for Russia’s bad relations with the United States. When she was Rybka’s age, Deripaska’s voice says on the recording, “She spent a month on a Russian whaling boat and after this, she hates the country.”
(Smearing Nuland with reminiscences about her alleged spoiled behavior while in the Soviet Union on an exchange program in Odessa, Ukraine, in 1982—on the Black Sea, very far from the whale fisheries—has been a fixture of anti-Obama-administration propaganda.)
Rybka, whose real name is Anastasia Vashukevich, made Navalny’s investigation easy. She had already documented her relations with Deripaska on Instagram—at one point accusing the billionaire of raping her, demanding that he marry her.
So, naturally, there have been many questions about Rybka’s motivations. It is unclear why it took the self-avowed “sex huntress” more than a year to start publishing her photographs of Deripaska sitting next to Prikhodko on the yacht, which is a clear indication, as Navalny notes, of unacceptable corruption.
But there is no question “Rybkagate” is now all over the Russian internet. Every day, Deripaska’s supposed seducer adds more details about her colorful career. Posing in swimsuits by a pool in Dubai, moving her freakishly big lips (her Instagrams show her features have grown increasingly feline over the last couple of years), Rybka boasts about having seduced at least six billionaires, and about being in a relationship with Deripaska for at least a year.
The authorities might have seen this coming. Rybka’s book last year, which Navalny quotes extensively, changed some names and locations, but not much else, it seems, about her time with Deripaska and Prikhodko. And a video she posted to promote the book on Instagram, which includes the audio about Nuland, leaves little doubt about the connections. The book “describes, to the accuracy of dates, hours AND MINUTES, everything that happened on that yacht,” as Navalny puts it.
With faux irony, he counsels readers to skip the prurient details if they can contain their curiosity. More seriously, he notes that Deripaska in the book is called Ruslan (his company is called Rusal), while Prikhodko is called “Daddy”—the man to whom everyone, including the oligarch, defers. “Who is he? Who can a billionaire be afraid of?” Rybka asks in the book, also noting that when Daddy harassed her, “Ruslan” said nothing, and that Daddy was taken off the yacht before it moored, apparently to avoid being seen with “Ruslan.”
Then Navalny reads from page 257 of the Rybka book the brief bio of “Daddy”: “This is the gray eminence of the regime. [The] Richelieu of our time.… There’s hardly any information on the internet, but since [former Russian President Boris] Yeltsin’s times he’s been deputy prime minister and worked at the presidential administration.… He writes pre-election speeches, presidential addresses to the assembly, he’s got a lot of awards.… He’s the only one the president hasn’t dismissed yet, a long-term member of the government, he’s been among the top officials since the ’90s. That’s why they call him Daddy. He’s been responsible for Russia’s foreign policy for the government, he has very large influence.”
“This is literally a copypasted biography of Prikhodko,” Navalny declares. “No one but him matches this description.”
The video investigation goes on to document some of the very expensive properties owned by the deputy PM, underscoring his alleged corruption in much the same way other Navalny videos have done with other officials, including Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
Then comes what Navalny describes as “dessert” and a “gift” to conspiracy theorists looking at Russian meddling in the American elections.
Noting the story broken by The Washington Post in September about Manafort offering to brief Deripaska on the presidential race, Navalny quotes American media reporting that Paul Manafort, “one of America’s most prominent and influential lobbyists,” had been getting paid by Deripaska since 2005, when he “started lobbying [for] the interests of Kremlin and Putin Washington.”
“Let’s make a very low-key conclusion,” says Navalny. “At the very least these two men [Deripaska and Manafort] know each other very well, and one has been getting money from the other.”
But this is the important part, as Navalny tries to connect the dots for American prosecutors and investigators:
“Why would the head of Trump’s campaign HQ conduct private briefings about the progress of the U.S. presidential campaign to some Russian oligarch? Because these briefings are actually for Putin, Kremlin, FSB, whoever, and Deripaska simply TRANSMITS (as an agent) this information to Putin. He’s very close to Putin, after all.”
But—and it’s an important “but”—as Navalny notes, “Among all the conspiracy theories of American mass media, this part was the most unconvincing. Many oligarchs are close to Putin. There were no proofs that Deripaska transmits something to him.… He doesn’t have any exclusive relations with Putin, he’s neither a government official nor a minister, to be able to make decisions on whether to support Trump at the elections or not. But now the pieces of this puzzle fell into place…”
One of Rybka’s photos of Prikhodko and Deripaska appear on the screen. “That’s who makes these decisions!” Navalny declares. “There he is, cruising with him on the yacht and, as we can hear on the video, discussing politics with him.”
Navalny claims, “These actually were some informal negotiations.”
The timing is important. Navalny’s internet sleuths have tracked the movements of Deripaska’s yacht through Norwegian waters on Aug. 7, 2016—one of three days “Daddy” was on the boat, according to Rybka. It was a moment when the Russian leadership was said to be divided about whether and how to pursue the interference in the American election that had started to blow up in their faces with extensive coverage in the U.S. press.
The deputy prime minister, the head of Medvedev’s office, “spends his vacation on an oligarch’s yacht, accompanied by this oligarch, and… a bunch of prostitutes. Yes there were several.” The two men were talking business, some of it in front of them. Fishing and fun, per Navalny and Rybka, were just a cover.
On Saturday, Rybka published one more video: Speaking in a quiet voice, the woman suggested Russian Vice PM Prikhodko, the Kremlin’s top critic Navalny, and oligarch Deripaska have group sex. “Do not fight over me and Russia, I know you will satisfy each other in sex wonderfully, let’s meet, have a great time, you will receive enough love and stop trying to smash each other’s faces,” Rybka said, smiling into the camera. “Then the [Navalny] website would not need to be banned, nor would protesters come into the streets,” Rybka added, and winked.
Scandals involving top Russian officials, their friends, families, lovers, and criminal gangs have been rocking President Putin’s world lately.
In the last three years, independent investigations have shed light on the Russian president’s best friend, musician Sergei Roldugin, who has a fortune estimated to be at least $100 million kept in offshore accounts, as well as on President Putin’s alleged daughter, Katerina, and the corruption of her husband, Kirill Shamalov.
A few hundred thousand Russians came out to protest in reaction to some of Navalny’s earlier investigations, including one exposing Prime Minister Medvedev’s secret dacha that allegedly was worth $509.16 million.
But Navalny’s reports do not always stir such crowds. Previously, investigations by Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation attracted public attention to images of the Kremlin officials’ and billionaires’ wives dressed in camouflage and riding armored vehicles for fun, as well as to Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika and his two sons’ involvement with the most violent gang in Russia’s history, but did not cause any public unrest.
For the Russian public, Rybkagate may fall into that category.
“For several days this dubious woman Rybka has been breaking news about Prikhodko and Deripaska, using social networks just as Navalny or Trump do. She has grown famous, instantly,” Olga Bychkova, deputy editor in chief of Echo of Moscow radio, told The Daily Beast. “Some experts believe that her appearance is the result of a dog fight under the carpet between Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin and people close to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Prikhodko.”
An independent observer and famous satirical writer, Victor Shenderovich, says he is deeply disgusted by the Deripaska, Prikhodko, and Rybka saga.
“A top Kremlin official, Prikhodko, discussed foreign affairs in the presence of a cheap hooker, demonstrating to us that he is not afraid of being punished for corruption, for sailing in Norway with prostitutes and an oligarch,” Shenderovich told The Daily Beast. “Russia’s political life has hit the bottom and the worst part of it is that people do not react to these high-profile scandals—even when millions saw news about Prosecutor General Chaika and his sons being connected to a group of killers there were not millions of people in the streets. I doubt that the Rybka-Kremlin news surprises anybody.”
Still, American investigators may be interested. The U.S. intelligence agencies have been watching Deripaska for a very long time.
Deripaska used to be a permanent fixture on President Putin’s trips abroad.
In 2006, the U.S. State Department refused to issue Deripaska a visa due to his alleged participation in the fight for control of aluminum manufacturing in the 1990s, described succinctly by one business publication as “a bloody period in the country’s post-communist asset grab from which a few dozen oligarchs emerged—and several potential oligarchs lost their lives.”
By 2009, Deripaska was traveling to the U.S. again, where the FBI interviewed the billionaire twice, making secret arrangements for his visits to talk about organized crime and ask about some of his massive transactions through Barclays Bank in New York.
Deripaska’s request for complete immunity in order to talk to congressional committees investigating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections was turned down last May because that might interfere with FBI inquiries. So it appears, now, neither Congress nor the FBI has heard what he has to say.
But if Rybka really did listen closely to Deripaska’s conversations on the yacht, or on the pillow, she might actually have something useful to tell the world.
Christopher Dickey also contributed to this article.