An explosive Internet video featuring film shot by female escorts aboard the yacht of a billionaire crony of Russian President Vladimir Putin has added the visage of a top Kremlin official to the controversy over alleged Russian influence over Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who produced the 25-minute video that was posted Thursday, displays film purportedly showing Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko aboard the private yacht of oligarch Oleg Deripaska in August 2016 off the coast of Norway, accompanied by a half dozen prostitutes. Prikhodko is a longtime foreign policy adviser to Russian leaders.
The video’s potential significance is linked to the fact that a month earlier, then-candidate Trump’s Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort had offered, in an email sent to an intermediary, to provide Deripaska private briefings as the campaign progressed.
The offer from Manafort, who had reaped millions in consulting fees from Deripaska in prior years, has been a focus of investigations into whether Trump’s campaign collaborated in Russia’s cyber offensive aimed at disrupting the 2016 U.S. election and helping Trump win.
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Manafort was indicted last year on money laundering and other charges in the investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating whether the Trump campaign and the Kremlin worked together to help Trump. Manafort is expected to stand trial later this year.
Navalny's video is titled, "Yachts, oligarchs, prostitutes: sex huntress denounces the bribe taker.” It offers a trifecta of sex, politics and relations of the international kind. Within its first 24 hours on YouTube, the video had 899,221 views and 28,131 comments. It had gotten more than 2 million views by Friday afternoon.
In the video, Navalny charges that Prikhodko took bribes by accepting Deripaska’s hospitality for several days on the yacht, accompanied by the escorts, and by flying to Norway on a jet owned by the oligarch in order to meet him for the cruise. While Deripaska has a relationship with Putin, Prikhodko, as a member of Putin’s cabinet, is believed to be even closer to the Russian leader.
During the video, Navalny displays a book apparently written about the adventure by one of the escorts, Nastia Rybka, whose social media pages say she is from Belarus. A rough translation of the book’s title: “Diary of the Seduction of the Billionaire, or Clone for the Oligarch.”
Navalny quotes the book, which refers to the two men by the pseudonyms Papa and Ruslan Zolotov, as saying Deripaska treated Prikhodko as his manager.
The video's accuracy could not be confirmed by McClatchy or other news outlets, though it provided backup for many of its charges. Among other things, it offered data on movements of Deripaska's yacht and a “shadow” yacht that provides him security on the dates of the accusers’ social-media postings.
(Update, Feb. 10: In a statement posted on his Instagram account, Deripaska accused the news media of distributing “Outrageous false allegations ... that I allegedly committed unlawful actions.”
“These allegations have nothing to do with reality, are the fruit of the imagination of a group of people and the result of a planned campaign aiming to damage my reputation,” he said. “I want to warn the media against the dissemination of these mendacious accusations. I will severely suppress any attempts to create and disseminate false information flow, using all legal measures and will defend my honor and dignity in court.”)
Navalny said he chanced upon the Deripaska-Prodhodko encounter after women came to his campaign headquarters in “inappropriate” attire, toting sex toys, and his supporters began investigating who organized the visit.
In a separate video, Rybka demands that Deripaska marry her, threatening to otherwise accuse the men of rape.
While the Navalny video spread quickly across the globe, the leading English-language websites in Russia, RT.com and Sputniknews.com, ignored it. But it drew impassioned comments from readers, most of them positive.
"Navalny is my hero,” said a viewer with the handle Fox Patrikeevna. “As long as he is alive, the hope is that Russia will become a more normal country with a level of development like Europe.”
Navalny, one of Russia’s leading critics of Kremlin corruption and of Putin, has been arrested numerous times by Russian authorities and was convicted of embezzlement several years ago – charges that human rights advocates say were fabricated in retaliation for his activism. He was promptly released each time after his sentencing.
In late 2016, Navalny announced he would run for the presidency of Russia in the election this March, challenging Putin, who is seeking a fourth term. However, in December, Russia’s Central Electoral Commission barred Navalny from running, citing his past convictions.
A spokesperson for Prikhodko could not immediately be reached for comment.