Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has claimed internet providers in the country had started blocking access to his website.
Navalny said Roscomnadzor, Russia’s communications watchdog, threatened last week it would block access to his site based on a court order obtained by billionaire Oleg Deripaska unless certain videos were removed from it.
Deripaska has accused Navalny of spreading lies about him and Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, and Instagram and YouTube have been threatened with the same fate.
The social media sites may be blocked in Russia unless videos that allegedly show the Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko meeting an oligarch linked to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and discussing the US on a luxury yacht are removed.
Deripaska and Prikhodko were reportedly filmed by an escort on the billionaire’s private yacht in 2016, which the Russian opposition, led by Alexei Navalny, claim is evidence of corruption and bribery.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny (pictured) has claimed internet providers in the country had started blocking access to his website (also pictured)
Billionaire Oleg Deripaska (in blue) and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko (glasses) were reportedly filmed by an escort on Deripaska’s private yacht in 2016; Alexei Navalny, a thorn in the Kremlin’s side, claims this is evidence of corruption
The videos and photos of Deripaska and Prikhodko on the yacht first emerged on the social media accounts of Anastasiya Vashukevich (pictured on the yacht on the day in question with Deripaska), a woman working as an escort under the name Nastya Rybka
Thorn in Kremlin’s side: Alexei Navalny produced the report on February 8 accusing the pair of corruption after he tracked down the pictures on Rybka’s Instagram account
In one video, the two men can be heard referring to ‘bad relations with America’ and ‘Nuland’, referring to Victoria Nuland, the then Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs in the Obama administration.
A Russian court has now ruled that the videos and images must be removed from the social media platforms, because they invade Deripaska’s privacy.
Deripaska won an order from the Ust-Labinsk district court in his native Krasnodar region which ordered 14 Instagram posts and seven YouTube videos that ‘breach his right to privacy’ must be removed, according to BloombergQuint. Both YouTube and Instagram have yet to respond to the ruling.
As it is not possible for internet providers to block specific pages on Instagram and YouTube, the entire sites may be blacklisted in Russia, a spokesperson for the Russian Association for Electronic Communications told the BBC.
Navalny claims that the videos allegedly showing Miss Rybka, Deripaska and Prikhodo, are evidence of government corruption and has refused to take down the videos.
Navalny quoted public records suggesting that Prikhodko spent several days on the yacht and was flown there by Deripaska’s private jet.
He also speculates whether the meeting had anything to do with the Trump presidential campaign, specifically Deripaska’s reported links to former Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort.
A spokesman for Deripaska rejected Navalny’s report, saying: ‘These scandalous and mendacious assumptions are driven by sensationalism and we totally refute these outrageous false allegations in the strongest possible way.’
Nastya Rybka had initially said she wasn’t going to remove the offending pictures and video, but as of Wednesday, the material appears to have been deleted, save for a couple of pictures of her on the yacht
According to a letter posted online by Navalny’s team on Monday, Google warned him to remove the material from his YouTube channel or face being blocked.
Russian communications watchdog Roskomnadzor, gave YouTube and Instagram until the end of Tuesday to delete the material or face censure.
As of Wednesday evening, it appeared that the offending Instagram and YouTube posts from Anastasiya Vashukevich, a woman working as an escort under the name Nastya Rybka, had been removed.
However the pictures and footage can still be seen on the YouTube channel of Mr Navalny. The 25-minute video has been viewed almost five million times.
Miss Rybka, who has written a book about working as an escort, claims to have had an affair with Deripaska and says she was hired to spend time on the oligarch’s yacht.
Miss Rybka, originally from Belarus but now based in Dubai, posted several videos in August 2016 showing Deripaska on his yacht talking with Deputy Prime minister Prikhodko.
The videos were only picked up by Mr Navalny on February 8 as part of an investigation.
In one snippet, Deripaska explains to Miss Rybka why relations between Russia and the United States are so bad.
‘We’ve got bad relations with America. Why? Because the friend of Sergey Eduardovich [Prikhodko], Nuland is her name, is responsible for them. When she was young, she spent a month on a Russian whaling boat, and after this, she hates the country.
Deripaska won an order from the Ust-Labinsk district court in his native Krasnodar region which ordered 14 Instagram posts and seven YouTube videos that ‘breach his right to privacy must be removed
Investigated: Navalny quoted public records suggesting that Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko, pictured, spent several days on the yacht and was flown there by Deripaska’s private jet
Navalny speculates during his YouTube video that the meeting could have had something to do with Paul Manafort’s (left) relationship with Deripaska; The Russian duo can also be heard discussing Victoria Nuland (right), who was the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs during the Obama administration
On Tuesday, Miss Rybka had put it to a vote among her Instagram followers, who, she claims, convinced her not to take down the videos and pictures.
However as of Wednesday, she appears to have deleted the offending images and videos.
Deripaska filed suit after Mr Navlny’s investigation and accused My Rybka of illegally using private images.
Roskomnadzor, the government’s media watchdog, gave YouTube and Instagram three days to take the videos down or be investigated.
It also ordered YouTube to take down Mr Navalny’s video, which was still online on Wednesday and had attracted five million views.
YouTube told the New York Times that it hadn’t figured out how to react.
But Mr Navaly called on both YouTube and Instagram to resist the Russian government’s demands in an interview with The Times.
Last week, several media outlets were also ordered to redact reports that initially picked up on Mr Navalny’s report. They all complied as of Wednesday, according to Interfax, the Russian news agency.
Deripaska is a controversial figure who has been linked to both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort.
Manafort offered to provide briefings on the US Presidential race to Deripaska, according to a Washington Post report from September although there is no evidence such briefings ever took place. In 2014, Deripaska accused Manafort of owing him nearly $19 million in a Cayman Islands court.
In 2008, he was at the centre of a British political scandal, when it emerged that then-Shadow Chancellor George Osborne, Lord Peter Mandelson and banking heir Nat Rothschild had all spent an evening on his yacht Queen K in Corfu in August.
Mr Navalny, on the other hand, is banned from running in next month’s presidential election in Russia.
He is known for probing the behaviour of well-known Russian figures.
Who is Oleg Deripaska? The billionaire oligarch with links to Putin and Trump’s shamed campaign manager
Oleg Deripaska, who is said to be a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is considered one of Russia ‘s wealthiest men.
Born in 1968 in the city of Dzerzhinsk, some 250 miles east of Moscow, Deripaska attended the School of Physics at Moscow State University before graduating from Moscow’s School of Economics at Plekhanov Academy of Economics.
He went on to establish himself in the domestic metals industry and in 2008, Forbes magazine listed Deripaska as the ninth-richest man in the world, worth about $28 billion.
Controversial: Russian oligarch and billionaire Oleg Deripaska has many powerful friends in politics
But when the financial crisis hit he almost went bankrupt before bouncing back – with the help of the Kremlin, according to some reports.
In 2016, Forbes ranked Deripaska as Russia’s 41st wealthiest man.
He hit the headlines in 2017 when he was found to have ties with Paul Manfort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman.
A report claimed $26million was transferred from Oguster Management Ltd – a company owned by Deripaska – to Yiakora Ventures Ltd – entities linked to Manafort.
Manafort denied that any business he did with Deripaska a decade ago was related to helping the Russian government.
British peer Lord Mandelson is also an intimate friend of Deripaska, having in 2005 famously joined him in a ‘Banya’ — a traditional sauna in which they were thrashed with bunches of birch twigs by a 25-year-old man, before jumping into freezing water.
Deripaska also hosted Lord Mandelson on his super-yacht, where the pair holidayed alongside Nat Rothschild, then shadow chancellor George Osborne and Tory fund-raiser Andrew Feldman in Corfu in 2008.