Russia has threatened to block access to YouTube and Instagram if the websites do not remove videos and photos of a Kremlin-linked oligarch’s meeting with a senior government minister on a luxury yacht.
The meeting between Oleg Deripaska, an aluminium and mining tycoon, and Sergei Prikhodko, a Russian deputy prime minister, was the subject of a recent investigation by Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition figurehead.
Navalny’s investigation was based on footage and photographs posted to Instagram in 2016 by Anastasiya Vashukevich, a 21-year-old model and escort who goes by the name Nastya Rybka. Vashukevich said she had been hired to spend time with the men on the yacht on a trip off the coast of Norway.
“An oligarch takes a top government official on a ride on his own yacht – that’s a bribe,” Navalny said in a video that has had more than 4m views. “An oligarch pays for all of this, including young women from escort agencies. Believe it or not, that is also a bribe.”
Navalny also alleged, without offering proof, that Deripaska was briefing Prikhodko on information on the 2016 US presidential campaign that he had received from Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign manager.
Manafort, who has had business dealings with Deripaska, offered private updates to the oligarch on Trump’s election campaign in a 2016 email, the Washington Post reported last year. Deripaska says he was not contacted by Manafort about such briefings.
Deripaska has not disputed that the meeting on the yacht with Prikhodko took place, but he denies the allegations of bribery and says Navalny’s investigation is part of a planned campaign to damage his reputation.
“These scandalous and mendacious assumptions are driven by sensationalism and we totally refute these outrageous false allegations in the strongest possible way,” a spokesman for Deripaska told AP.
He won an injunction on Saturday from a court in his native Krasnodar region ordering the removal from websites of the videos and photographs, which he says are a violation of his privacy.
Roskomnadzor, the Russian communications watchdog, has given Youtube and Instagram until the close of business on Tuesday to delete the material or face censure. Neither company responded immediately to a request for comment.
The watchdog also ordered Navalny to delete his investigation into the meeting from his website. Navalny has described the order as an unprecedented case of state censorship, and has urged his supporters to share his video on Deripaska’s meeting with Prikhodko as widely as possible.
Prikhodko, who advises the Kremlin on foreign policy, said the issue should have been settled with Navalny “man to man”, but he supported Deripaska’s decision to appeal to the court. The Kremlin has not commented.
Navalny, who is barred from challenging Vladimir Putin in next month’s presidential election, has been using social media to try to persuade Russians to boycott the vote, in which Putin is all but certain to secure another six-year term in office.