So often details emerge in the Russia investigation that, initially, are too bizarre and too fantastical to believe. Then, as time passes, they start to seem less fantastical and become too difficult to easily explain away.
The Navalny Tape is one of those events. An August 2016 fishing trip on a yacht belonging to a Russian oligarch, the Russian deputy prime minister Sergei Prikhodko, a Belorussian sex guru, Donald Trump’s campaign manager, and his Ukrainian protege with ties to GRU may be a critical, though seemingly fantastical, thread in the tapestry.
Alexey Navalny, a vociferous Putin critic, published a 25 minute YouTube video on February 8, 2018 in which he accused Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with ties to both Putin and the Trump campaign, of being a conduit of information from the Trump campaign to the Kremlin. His theory is Paul Manafort provided the information and Prikhodko, Russian deputy prime minister, accepted the information on behalf of the Kremlin on Deripaska’s yacht in the waters around Norway.
Navalny comes to this conclusion after examining video footage shared on Instagram by self proclaimed sex guru, Anastasia Vashukevich aka Nastya Rybka, who claims she was working as a prostitute on Deripaska’s yacht on the three day fishing trip. Quartz Media reports that Rybka’s footage shared by Navalny captures Deripaska and Prikhodko discussing American politics, although there is no smoking gun of obvious transmission of campaign information in the footage Navalny provides.
In it, Deripaska sits next to Prikhodko and light-heartedly tells Rybka, “We have bad relations with America. Why? Because Sergei Eduardovich’s [Prikhodko] friend is responsible for them. Her name’s Nuland,” he said, referring to Victoria Nuland, then a senior State department official working on Russia. “Nuland, when she was your age, spent a month on a Russian whaling boat. After that she hates our country.”
It would be easy to dismiss Navalny’s accusation of Deripaska as a conduit between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin as crazy if it weren’t for a few concerning facts that cannot be easily explained away.
First, and most concerning, is the fact that Paul Manafort, the sleazy politico who worked as Donald Trump’s campaign manager for free, offered “private briefings” to Deripaska to whom he owed $18.9 million. The Washington Post reported on emails Manafort sent to his protege with suspected Russian intelligence ties, Konstantin Kilimnik, shortly after being hired on as campaign manager. Desperate to find a way to “get whole” with the oligarch referred to as “Putin’s favorite industrialist” and a man who is characterized “among the 2-3 oligarchs Putin turns to on a regular basis” and “a more-or-less permanent fixture on Putin’s trips abroad,” Manafort appears to have attempted to leverage his role as campaign manager for a visibly pro-Russia candidate into financial opportunities.
Second, the time line. Manafort’s email to Kilimnik offering private briefings to Deripaska was sent on July 7, 2016. Manafort and Kilimnik met in New York on August 2. The fishing trip, which Rybka claims was a front, took place over August 6, 7, and 8, 2016. Paul Manafort resigned as Trump campaign manager two weeks later, amid accusations of secret payments being made to him by the Ukrainian pro-Russia Party of Regions. While there is no public evidence that the proffered briefings were ever given, the timeline clearly is such that there was time to do so.
Kilimnik, an individual who made no secret of his Russian intelligence ties, likely facilitated any briefings that occurred. The Atlantic reports an email exchange between Manafort and Konstantin, with veiled references to “caviar jars” presumably referring to payments that were made to Manafort by OVD, Oleg Vladomirovich Deripaska, the oligarch close to Putin and with whom Paul Manafort had had a long relationship with and to whom he owed a great deal of money.
On July 29, a week after Trump accepted the Republican nomination, Manafort received another email from Kilimnik, this one with the subject line “Black Caviar.” “I met today with the guy who gave you your biggest black caviar jar several years ago,” Kilimnik wrote. “We spent about 5 hours talking about his story, and I have several important messages from him to you. He asked me to go and brief you on our conversation. I said I have to run it by you first, but in principle I am prepared to do it, provided that he buys me a ticket. It has to do about the future of his country, and is quite interesting. So, if you are not absolutely against the concept, please let me know which dates/places will work, even next week, and I could come and see you.”
Kilimnik and Manafort met on August 2, 2016 at a Manhattan cigar club, the Grand Havana Club, The Washington Post reported in September 2017. While “KK” states it was a meeting regarding private, not political, matters, his phrasing in the email contacts of having “several important messages from him to you” and the “future of his country” belies that stance.
Third, Nastya Rybka ended up in a Thai prison for teaching sex coaching classes without a permit in March of this year. She announced she had 16 hours of tapes that would show Russia’s – specifically Deripaska’s – involvement in interfering in the US presidential election. She offered that information to Robert Mueller, special counsel in charge of the Russia investigation in exchange for asylum in the US. She expressed fear for her life if deported to Russia, a fear that is not misplaced. Russia murdering people who are problematic is the norm, not the exception, and, per Senate testimony, we know at least one person was killed because of the publication of the Steele dossier.
Newsweek reported that the FBI took Rybka’s story seriously enough to attempt to visit her in jail. Thai officials reportedly denied them access to her on the grounds that only family and legal representation were allowed to visit. Nastya’s name has now dropped off the front pages and her fate is unknown. It seems likely that either the FBI or the Kremlin have her at this point.
Fourth, Russia immediately fought hard to have Navalny’s YouTube video removed. Deripaska, who claims the accusations to be untrue, won an injunction to have the video taken down, along with other Instagram posts and other videos. Navalny has not complied with removing the video, saying the only way to respond is to “spread the video”.
Fifth, this would not be the first time Deripaska offered his yacht as a place to insert himself into foreign politics. In 2008, George Osbourne, who would become Britian’s chancellor, faced a scandal for allegedly having met multiple times with Deripaska on his yacht to discuss a donation of £50,000 donation.
As with the other suspicious events on the timeline of the Trump campaign, the more one looks at the facts surrounding the Navalny tape, the more suspicious it becomes. We know that Paul Manafort offered private briefings to someone and all indications point to that someone being the Russian oligarch, Deripaska. That same Russian oligarch met a month later with a high level Russian official on a low-key fishing trip in which a prostitute happened to have recorded conversations about American politics. The Russian government immediately entered a fight to bury the tape and the prostitute went public, fearing for her life, only to disappear from the news entirely.
One would have to be willfully determined to believe the innocence of the people involved, considering all the facts. Manafort and Kilimnik have both been indicted on unrelated charges. Manafort faces two upcoming trials, the first scheduled to begin July 25, and Kilimnik has retreated to Moscow, according to court filings. Deripaska has been sanctioned by the Treasury Department.
The most pressing question when examining the Navalny Tape is what did Donald Trump know about what his campaign manager was up to?
Anastasia Vashukevich aka Nastya Rybka
Seth Abramson Twitter Thread on the Navalny Tape (Long but worth the read)