Nastya Rybka, the escort/girlfriend of Oleg Deripaska who revealed an important behind-the-scenes meeting between Deripaska and Sergey Prikhodko. Source: Instagram. Over the last 10 days, the Russian reading public’s demand for popcorn has increased sharply. On 8 February, Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation published a new investigation, and launched a fascinating new soap opera. The investigation is based on the book and the Instagram account of a young woman, Nastya Rybka, who witnessed a meeting between a deputy prime minister, Sergey Prikhodko, and oligarch Oleg Deripaska. The meeting took place on the billionaire’s yacht in August 2016.
Analysing a string of events between Washington DC and Deripaska’s yacht, Navalny concluded that a possible purpose of the meeting was to allegedly discuss bribing members of Donald Trump’s campaign — and secure Russian influence on American public opinion shortly before the US presidential elections. Deripaska was once a client of Paul Manafort, the US lobbyist with Russia ties who ran part of Trump’s presidential campaign. Prikhodko, who has a relatively low profile, answers for the Kremlin’s “foreign portfolio”.
Even before the public had time to enjoy Navalny’s film, however, a sequel began — this one launched by the Russian state. Less than a day after the investigation came out, Roskomnadzor (the Russian government’s media regulator) requested every outlet that published articles relating to the story to remove images and videos from their websites on the pretext of protecting privacy. On the evening of that same day, Roskomnadzor announced that all online information relating to Navalny’s investigation had been included in Russia’s Unified Register of banned websites. Roskomnadzor didn’t only include videos and pictures from Rybka’s Instagram and in the press, but even Navalny’s website in its entirety. On 15 February, Internet providers across Russia started to block Navalny.com. All this was done on the basis of a court ruling that took 10 minutes to make, establishing “interim measures” pending a proper ruling.
Oleg Deripaska and Sergey Prikhodko, August 2016. Source: YouTube. The time between the publication of the investigation and the complete blocking of Navalny’s website was seven days — an unbelievable speed for Russian courts. Here, the Russian state’s power has been used to protect the interests of a public official and an oligarch, and to punish an anti-corruption activist, rather than establishing truth and justice. “After all, my baby knows how to speed up judges when he needs to,” this was Nastya Rybka’s tender comment.
One wonders, what was all this for?
It makes no sense to Deripaska to worry about his reputation in the world and especially in A 2014 letter from Russia's General Prosecutor's office to Transparency International, confirming a 2007 Spanish criminal investigation into Oleg Deripaska for organised crime offences and money laundering. It was passed onto Russian investigators in 2012. According to the letter, the Russian investigation lasted until February 2015. Russia. He’s been unable to visit the United States since 2006, allegedly due to links with organised crime. The US Financial Crimes Enforcement Network of the Treasury Department (FinCEN) has had a thick file on him since the 1990s, when he was the owner of an aluminium business with Mikhail Chernoy, aka Michael Cherney, a criminal entrepreneur with links to the Izmaylovskaya organised crime syndicate.
There’s also a file on Deripaska in France, where he lobbied in support of an IPO for his Rusal aluminium giant in Paris in 2010. And there’s another file at the office of the Attorney General of Spain, where Deripaska was formerly accused of money laundering.
But the biggest file is, of course, in the Kremlin.
In 2007, fugitive Russian businessman Dschalol Haydarov gave testimony to German investigators in the course of a criminal case against the bosses of the Izmaylovskaya crime syndicate. Haydarov made the following statement to the Stuttgart police:
“One of the partners of Chernoy and Malevsky [one of the bosses of the criminal organisation] was Oleg Deripaska. He was responsible for operations with aluminium. It can be said with confidence that he knew about the murders and the methods of the organisation. Deripaska shared an office with Malevsky, and a joint bank account too.
Deripaska had local connections with the FSB and the police. His job consisted of using his contacts with the FSB in the interest of the organisation. Close connections to the FSB and the police had strategic importance for the group. With the help of these connections, it was possible to follow business partners, eavesdrop their phones, conduct surveillance, receive their papers. That way they found out the weak spots of entrepreneurs in order to extort them more effectively.”
In this light, the oligarchs’ escapades with women on a yacht are neither news, nor “compromising material”. The story with Rybka was known long before Navalny’s investigation: the picture of Deripaska with his arms around the young woman was posted on Instagram in August 2016. Rybka’s book Diary of a Billionaire’s Seduction was published in 2017; the Russian tabloid press have written about the affair between Rybka and the businessman before. Deripaska’s security team could have deleted Rybka’s webpage long ago, and “disarmed” Rybka herself. But apparently the disclosure of this information was not considered a threat.
However, after the scandal around Navalny's investigation, everything was quickly cleaned up. Even Instagram rushed to delete all saucy pictures from Rybka’s account, fearing that Roskomnadzor could block them in Russia.
So the question is: what was all this for?
In his investigation, Navalny asserts that Sergey Prikhodko’s three day holiday with prostitutes on Deripaska’s yacht, as well as the flight in his private jet, constitutes a bribe from the billionaire to an official. But if it is a bribe, then in exchange for what? What did the powerful “aluminium king”, 23rd on the Forbes Russia list, receive in exchange for his bribe to a deputy prime minister?
Oleg Deripaska. (c) NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.It’s completely possible that he didn’t receive anything in particular and that those who are defending the Kremlin are right: the businessman and the deputy prime minister were simply on a holiday together. “One shouldn’t confuse normal, friendly, unofficial relationships with perks and bribery,” this is what Mikhail Abyzov, Russia’s Minister for Open Government, commented.
And he’s right. What’s more desirable for a businessman than a friendly relationship with a government official? When business and political power are so closely merged (as it is in Russia), it’s ridiculous to talk about bribes. Corrupt connections are interwoven to such extent that it has long become hard who’s an official — and who’s an oligarch.
This is why what took place behind Rybka’s back on Oleg Deripaska’s yacht is not bribery. It’s a political conspiracy to influence specific international events, which the Russian state organises with money from businesses dependent on it.
To strengthen their status, Russian businessmen have to participate in these kind of affairs and carry out the authorities’ political instructions. On the behalf of the Kremlin, Yevgeny Prigozhin, a billionaire who goes by the nickname “Putin’s cook”, funds a “troll factory” to divide American society and fuel hatred towards the Russian opposition. Deripaska, the aluminium tycoon, buys up lobbyists in Washington to defend the interests of the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin. Others buy up Russian media outlets to control those who criticise the authorities.
Finally, let’s admit that the role of Nastya Rybka has been unfairly belittled. We should acknowledge that we have only learned about all of this thanks to Rybka (who has now been arrested in Thailand, where she faces possible deportation to Russia). Risking her life, this young woman shed light on a secret meeting aboard a yacht and, in the name of the public good, published proof of a conspiracy. She’s the real whistle-blower, the Russian Chelsea Manning. It’s possible that Rybka didn’t realise the significance of what she was doing, or the information she disclosed. But thanks to her, the world has seen again that you can’t harbour illusions about the real way the “Russian world” is put into action.