March 2, 2018


The Trump-Russia Story Gets Even Weirder (Michelle Goldberg, MARCH 2, 2018, NY Times)

Vashukevich first came to the attention of close watchers of the Trump-Russia story last month, thanks to a 25-minute video by Aleksei Navalny, a Russian dissident famed for exposing corruption in his country. Like many domestic opponents of Russian president Vladimir Putin, Navalny had regarded the American uproar over Trump's Russia ties skeptically. But his investigation -- which he said led to the "most scandalous findings in the history of our work," according to the video's English-language subtitles -- appears to have altered his thinking.

It began last September, when a group of women in scanty bondage gear walked into the Moscow office of Navalny's organization, the Anti-Corruption Foundation. At that very moment, journalists from a pro-Putin media outlet just happened to be passing by, and recorded their presence.

Navalny wanted to find out who the women were and who had sent them. He discovered that they were, as he put it in the video, a "mildly insane" squad of activist sex workers who specialize in weird pranks, like picketing the American Embassy naked in support of Harvey Weinstein. And one of them, Vashukevich, had lots of photographs of herself and the politically powerful Deripaska on her Instagram account.

Deripaska, remember, is the oligarch that the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort offered to brief privately on the American presidential campaign. He's been connected to Russian organized crime, and Manafort appeared to owe him a lot of money. (A court filing in the Cayman Islands said Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, couldn't account for nearly $19 million that they were supposed to invest for a business controlled by Deripaska.) After joining the Trump campaign, Manafort emailed an intermediary, asking, apparently in reference to Deripaska, "How do we use to get whole?"

Navalny initially dismissed speculation that Deripaska had served as a back channel between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. "Among all the conspiracy theories of American mass media, this part was the most unconvincing," he said in the video. "Many oligarchs are close to Putin," and there was no evidence that Deripaska was transmitting secret intelligence to him.

But then Navalny and his team looked closely at the Instagram account of Deripaska's nubile consort. Vashukevich had posted video from an August 2016 trip to Norway on Deripaska's yacht with several other escorts. And on that yacht was a Russian deputy prime minister, Sergei Prikhodko. In the video, you can even hear Deripaska and Prikhodko talking about Russia's bad relations with the United States, for which Deripaska blamed Victoria Nuland, Barack Obama's assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs. Seeing it, said Navalny, "the pieces of this puzzle fell into place."

Within 24 hours of Navalny posting his investigation, a Russian court issued a ruling trying to block access to it. Deripaska filed a claim against Vashukevich and Aleksandr Kirillov, a self-styled "sex guru" she's close to, for invasion of privacy. And at some point Vashukevich and Kirillov took off for Thailand.

Posted by at March 2, 2018 1:58 PM