YouTube has yet to decide how to respond to a Russian court order to take down videos and photos posted by Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader and Vladimir Putin’s most prominent political foe. The video shows a controversial meeting between a Kremlin-linked oligarch and a top Russian official. YouTube, as well as Instagram, could be banned in the country if they don’t comply with the order, which resulted from a complaint filed by Russian mining magnate Oleg Deripaska.
The video shows Deripaska, the wealthiest man in Russia, meeting with Sergei Prikhodo, a Russian deputy prime minister, aboard a luxury yacht off the coast of Norway. The images included in Navalny’s video were posted to Instagram in 2016 by Anastasiya Vashukevich, a 21-year-old model and escort whose professional name is Nastya Rybka and who claims she was paid to spend time with the men.
In a video that has been viewed more than 4 million times, Navalny claims that the trip constitutes a bribe by Deripaska to the government official. He also alleges that Deripaska was updating Prikhodo on the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, with information that he had received from Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign manager. Manafort, who was recently indicted by the Justice Department for money laundering and tax fraud, has been paid millions of dollars for consulting advice by Deripaska since 2007.
In the video, Navalny says, “An oligarch takes a top government official on a ride on his own yacht–that’s a bribe. An oligarch pays for all of this, including young women from escort agencies. Believe it or not, that is also a bribe.”
The Manafort allegation is what intrigues some Russian anti-corruption watchdogs. “More interestingly the investigation exposes a potential secret communication channel linking President Trump’s campaign–Paul Manafort– Oleg Deripaska–and the Russian government,” said Roman Borisovich, the supervisory board member of the Russian Anti-Corruption Foundation, in an email to Fast Company.
Last September, the Washington Post reported that Manafort had offered Deripaska updates on the campaign in an email he sent to the mogul just two weeks before Trump secured the Republican nomination. The email is among thousands of documents turned over to special counsel Robert Mueller as part of his probe into Russian election interference. Deripaska’s spokesman denied that he ever received such an email. Manafort’s spokesman, meanwhile, denied that briefings took place, suggesting that the email was just an innocuous offer for a “routine” briefing on the state of the campaign.
YouTube, which received a legal notice from the Russian court regarding the videos, did not ask Navalny to remove the video, as has been reported, but simply forwarded the notice to him, say sources close to the company. YouTube has yet to decide how to respond to the legal notice. A company spokesperson declined comment.