Thursday, February 22, 2018

Why Russian Opposition Leader Navalny's Recent Video Deserves a Closer Look

by Nomad

At the beginning of this month, while all of us were preoccupied with porn star pay-offs and Trump's tweets, the main opposition leader in Russia, Alexei Navalny posted a video on YouTube, outlining interesting accusations against the Putin administration.
His private investigation involves a wild cast of characters: an indiscreet escort, a philandering oligarch, and an extremely powerful, and possibly corrupt government official.

More importantly, (at least for us) Navalny's theory also may connect a lot of dots in Trump-Russian collusion story. Here are translated excerpts along with a few explanatory annotations from that video.
From the outset, Navalny warns his viewers to brace themselves for a "silly and strange" situation and an "accidental" and strange investigation into Russian corruption.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Escort

The bizarre story begins with a "raid" on his headquarters by a team of scantily-clad women. In fact, they arrived as sexy party costume police. Navalny said that this kind of trashy attention-seeking was something his team is fairly used to. As disturbing as these kinds of surprise attacks might be, they have learned to get on with the tasks at hand.

It did pique interest in the alleged ringleader, a 21-year-old woman who calls herself Nastya Rybka. Her real name is Anastasiya Vashukevich and the model/escort was born was
Belarusian town of Babruysk.

The talkative Rybka has produced her own videoes in which she mentions the opposition leader by name.
"I want to address Alexey Navalny. Alex, one of us will find you and f*ck you and post the video of it on the internet. Because of you and those like you, people keep fighting wars now."
This is the nature of patriotic nationalism in Putin's Russia, I suppose. An escort threatening (promising?) to sex him into political submission.  
Out of curiosity, he decided to check out Rybka's online accounts to see what he could find.   
This girl from Bobruisk, Belarus, who calls herself Nastya Rybka, constantly boasts that she managed to seduce some oligarch.
She even writes guidebooks on this. Of course, she can make up anything she wants, but there is one thing. In her Instagram, there are lots of private photos of a real oligarch – Oleg Deripaska
In the past, we have examined the billionaire Oleg Deripaska and his connections to Trump's right-hand man, Paul Manafort. Back in March 2017, the AP reported that Manafort:
"secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics."
Manafort eventually signed a $10 million annual contract with Deripaska in the beginning in 2006. Manafort and Deripaska maintained a business relationship until at least 2009, according to one person familiar with the work.

Deripaska's connections to Putin were implied but not quite clarified. Thanks to the photos found on Rybka's social media accounts, the puzzle pieces begin to align. 

The Love Boat - Russian Style

Before we look at this, we should allow Navalny some time to prove the veracity of the interesting information he found online.
Make no mistake, there's no question that Deripaska- who was married at that time- was at least at one time, one of Rybka's clients. Cheating with escorts is apparently part of oligarch culture. 
It is hardly enough to raise an eyebrow in Moscow anymore.

However, there was something in Rybka's videos that caught the sharp eyes of his investigative team.
At one point in Rybka's video, Deripaska makes an off-hand remark. The oligarch explains:

We’ve got bad relations with America, because the friend of Sergey Eduardovich, Nuland’s her name, is responsible for them. When she was your age, she’s spent a month on a Russian whaling boat. She hates our country after this
Why is that?  Were the sailors there bad? You mean, she got raped?"

"Why did he pick you?" "It was me who picked him."

This unintelligible exchange about international relations is certainly not what one would expect between an escort and her customer onboard his fabulous yacht.
So, what the hell is Deripaska talking about? Who is Sergey Eduardovich? 
(Spoiler: That's not his full name.)Why doesn't Rybka even ask whom Deripaska might be referring to?

The best answer to these questions turns out to be the most obvious one.
The answer is simple. Nastya the “huntress” already knows well who Sergey Eduardovich is. Because Sergey Eduardovich is sitting next to her during this conversation. On the yacht.
His full name is Sergey Eduardovich Prikhodko. Navalny points out that Prikhodko is the Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation. 
Prikhodko isn’t a well known Russian government official, but he has a lot of influence. He’s been a public officer for his entire life. In the late 90s, he worked as a Deputy Head of Presidential Administration. The First Deputy Head at that time was Putin, by the way.
He was an advisor to president Yeltsin, then to president Putin, then to president Medvedev, and to this day he is the Head of the Executive Office of the Government and Medvedev’s deputy.
Prikhodko is considered a specialist in international relations and practically the most influential politician in this sphere. Not Lavrov, but Prikhodko.
But how can we be sure? According to Navalny, the photos taken on the yacht leaves little room for doubt.

And it goes before mere resemblances in blurry photos. Ms, Rybka has written a book which includes accurate dates, hours (and even minutes) of all of the shenanigans that took place on Deripaska yacht.  

Her attempts to disguise particular details are inept and, with a bit of investigative journalism from Navalny's team, her ruses fall apart. (Navalny warns that reading the book is an assault on one's mental health but it does contain a lot of "details and descriptions that you will want to forget immediately, but will possibly not be able to.")

Who and Where's Your Daddy?

The names of the performers in this seedy drama are disguised. For example, Deripaska there is called "Ruslan," and Prikhodko is named as "Daddy." The Rybka clips from the video establish hierarchy. Despite allegedly being on Deripaska's yacht, the oligarch yield to Prikhodka. Daddy, Navalny says, is the only one that Ruslan never jokes about.

And here’s another logistical detail.
“Daddy disappeared back on the deck… He’s a mysterious person. It seems like Daddy was taken off before the yacht moored to the shore. He couldn’t even come ashore together with Ruslan for some strange reasons.”
As a spy to the proceedings, Rybka reports what she saw, even though the exact nature of the business was a mystery to her.
What is there to do on the yacht? And what was Ruslan doing? Just fishing? No! Daddy was there. Those were informal negotiations about something important for Ruslan."
Ms. Rybka makes a clumsy attempt to hide the location of the yacht while the "party" was going on. She claims it all took place in Greenland. 
Not true, N. points out. Comparing her photos to those found on Google Maps reveal the real location to be Norway. Since Rybka provided the exact dates, confirmation was easy. 
Sure enough, during these days, Deripaska's yacht “Elden” was sailing in this area of Norway. Norwegian media had reported it at the time.
We can assume that 90% of the contents of this “book” are lies, but the things that we can check through other sources – photos, videos, geolocation – can be confirmed entirely.
They’ve been sailing for 3 days in August 2016. (Remember this date.)

N.'s investigative team discovers another "coincidence." 
Prikhodko had to somehow reach the remote Norwegian peninsula, where there’s only one airport. During the dates of this trip, two private planes landed there at the same time, both belonging to Deripaska.
 One came from Montenegro, where Deripaska has a villa and a business, and the other from Moscow.

All this information points obviously suggests corruption of top-level officials, at least as far as Navalny is concerned. Unfortunately, that's pretty much business as usual in the Motherland.

Prikhodko, for a government official- even of his stature- lives much more like part of a royal family. Although he claims never to have done business, his estates reportedly cover one and a half thousand square meters.

All of this is located in the closed cooperative near Moscow exclusively for members of the ruling political party of the Russian Federation. At the lowest estimate, it costs over 300 million rubles.

In addition, Navalny points out, Prikhodko a pair of deluxe apartment buildings for Russia's super elite. This income, 280 million in 3 years,  is declared in his wife's name, even though she doesn't actually own any business.

When the Deputy Prime Minister spends his free time on an oligarch’s yacht, accompanied a bunch of prostitutes- pardon sex-workers, questions naturally arise. But, is this simply a sex romp? If so, then it's an excellent way for a billionaire to "compromise" one of the most powerful figures in the Russian government, outside of Putin himself.

Or is it, as Rybka thought, some kind of business meeting between "Daddy" and a high-flying but subservient oligarch?  if that's true, what kind of business?
Navalny has his own ideas.

What the Timelines Suggest 

The Washington Post reported last year that Manafort, in an email, offered private briefings to Deripaska on the Trump campaign’s progress in July 2016. Only a month after the yacht get-together. 
N. believes the pieces fit.
Here's the context. Mass media report that Manafort has been getting paid by Deripaska since 2005. He is one of America's most prominent and influential lobbyists, who has been serving the interests of various dictators and weapon dealers since the 80s.
And in 2005, he started lobbying the interests of Kremlin and Putin in Washington. Deripaska was the one paying for it.
Furthermore, Deripaska's handler was, Navalny seems to believe, Prikhodko.
Why would the head of Trump's campaign HQ conduct private briefings about the progress of the US 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.
The conspiracy theory that linked Deripaska to Putin had hereto been the weakest link. Putin knows a lot of oligarchs and many of them he probably considers friends.
Until the latest revelations, Navalny says, it was always fairly unconvincing. There was no indication that Putin and Deripaska had a close relationship (and some have claimed that they were not particularly on exactly friendly terms.)

On top of this, Deripaska was neither a government official nor a minister. He would not have been capable of making such important decisions regarding cooperation with the Trump campaign. Considering the potential for international scandal, the decision to work with the Trump campaign in any capacity had to have been approved at the highest level. Prikhodoko certainly fits the bill.

According to Navalny, the conspiracy theory seems to make a lot more sense with the inclusion of Deputy PM Prikhodko. His fishing trips aboard Deripaska's yacht (along with assorted escorts) begin to make a lot more sense.

When put into the larger timeline of the Russian collusion investigation, it leads to other conclusions. Soon after this alleged meeting between Deripaska and Prikhodko- presumably, to iron out any kinks in the Trump-Kremlin connection- Manafort's plan hit an icy patch and nearly skidded into a ditch.

In August 2016, Manafort resigned from the Trump campaign after questions after his past lobbying work for pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs came to light.

If the conspiracy theory is accurate, then Manafort had other reasons to flee the spotlight as soon as possible. Any investigation into Manafort's Ukrainian connections could easily have revealed his more direct connections to the Kremlin, through Deripaska via Prikhodko. 
None of this is proven, of course, but it would explain why the Mueller investigation appears to be slowly but surely building its case around Manafort.

Epilogue: Unintentional Confirmation

In an emailed statement to the media, a spokesman for Deripaska denied the findings of Navalny's investigation, describing it as "scandalous and mendacious assumptions driven by sensationalism."
The statement went on to say:
"We totally refute these outrageous false allegations in the strongest possible way.”
He also said that he would vigorously fight "any attempts to create and disseminate false information," vowing to use "all legal measures" and defend his "honor and dignity in court."
Because, like, honor and dignity are such important attributes to a Russian oligarch who entertains high-level officials with pouty faced escorts.

Less than a week after Navalny posted his video, Deripaska decided to use the courts to silence the accusations. Claiming an invasion of his privacy, he won an injunction from a judge in his Krasnodar region which ordered the removal from websites of the videos and photographs.

In addition, the Russian communications watchdog, Roskomnadzor, gave YouTube and Instagram orders to delete all traces of the material or face government censure. Censor or Censure, to put it another way.

Not surprisingly, Navalny has described the order as an unprecedented case of state censorship. Instagram obliged with the Russian courts' demand. YouTube has, for the time being, held out, risking a nationwide ban. Meanwhile, the video has been viewed more than 6 million times and received 380K likes.

Prikhodko declared that Navalny and Deripaska should have settled the matter "man-to-man" which may very well dueling pistols at dawn or at the very least, fisticuffs according to the Queens rules. 

None of the players in this sordid tale seem to realize that their reactions do nothing to discredit the accusations against them. Instead, threats to physical violence and using the courts to silence Navalny actually tend to confirm his theory.

Nicely played, Alexei.