It’s one of the most talked about stories in Russia today. Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska went sailing on a yacht with one of Russia’s top officials, Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Prikhodko, somewhere off the coast of Norway. The men were reportedly accompanied by several young female escorts.
Perhaps that trip wouldn’t mean much outside Russia — that is, if it didn’t involve the specter of Donald Trump’s former campaign chair, Paul Manafort.
On February 8, Russian opposition politician and anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny released an investigation that claims Deripaska bribed Prikhodko and passed on information about the progress in Trump’s presidential campaign that he had received from Manafort. The yacht trip reportedly took place in the beginning of August 2016, right when Trump’s campaign was in full swing.
Besides revealing potential corruption among Russia’s elite, Navalny's report also posits a possible conduit between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign — currently the subject of several investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election.
In the report, Navalny identified one of the escorts on board the yacht as Nastya Rybka. Now, Hromadske’s Belarusian partner, Euroradio, has managed to locate her husband in the town of Babruysk in Belarus. Nikolay Vashukevich repeatedly denied that his wife, Rybka, was an escort. Instead, he said that perhaps she seduced Deripaska because “she felt like it or maybe she liked the man. Or maybe he employed her for something.”
“I feel negative toward all of this. It’s all for the sake of the book,” Vashukevich said, referring to “A Diary About Seducing a Billionaire,” which Rybka wrote and published in October 2016. The book appears to describe her affair with Deripaska and mentions Prikhodko, although it gives both men pseudonyms. “But I didn’t read it, so I don’t know,” Vashukevich added.
In her book, Rybka also refers to Vashukevich as her ex-husband, but Vashukevich insists that they are still legally married. He says he finds the entire story currently flying around media embarrassing.
“It’s my surname too. So bloody embarrassing. I don’t even know…,” he told Euroradio. “I’m being punished for my own surname. Even as far back as last year, I received a call from a Russian TV program and they asked me to appear there, they offered me money. But I didn’t want to speak. But the stuff about the escort work is untrue.”
Vashukevich says that he and Rybka have a son together who lives with him.
“Our son is a cool kid, he understands everything. Nastya has access to him with no problems. She has it but she still doesn’t visit for unknown reasons. Maybe because of safety concerns. Everything she says is a game,” he said.
Vashukevich also suggested that the death of Rybka's mother could be the reason she moved from her native Babruysk to Moscow, where she met Deripaska.
“Her mother died. We lived [together,] everything was fine. But then she just decided to write a book. She wrote it in Moscow. She didn’t have any girlfriends. She only had her mother, she didn’t have anyone else. Maybe it all happened because of her loneliness…But I thought that I compensated for all of it,” Vashukevich said.
Navalny supported his findings with evidence from Rybka’s Instagram posts, which show parts of the yacht called “Elden.” It had been previously reported by the Norwegian media to belong to Deripaska. Navalny also checked flight records and there were only two airplanes landing between the dates of the alleged trip: both of them belong to Deripaska.
Both Deripaska and Prikhodko have denied the opposition activist’s claims. Deripaska called them “outrageous false allegations” and a “planned campaign aimed at damaging my reputation” in an Instagram post on February 9.
Prikhodko told Russia’s RBK television channel that the report was a provocation set up by a “political loser,” referring to Navalny. He also denied knowing Manafort personally.
“Things like this should actually be settled in a manly way, but let’s stay within the legal framework,” he said.
/By Maria Romanenko