Apparent Bribe Tape Used to Smear Russian Liberals

In a video that appeared online this week, a skinny young man with brown hair sat on a couch next to a half-naked woman lying down with her face blurred out. He leaned over a stool, snorted a few lines of white powder and sat back up. The video then cut to the same man getting dressed, presumably after sex with the woman with the blurred-out face.

The hidden-camera clip has been making waves in Russia, where the man, Mikhail Fishman, is well-known as the editor of Newsweek magazine's Russian edition.

A few days prior, Fishman appeared in another Internet video along with two other men, opposition activist Ilya Yashin and liberal political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin.

In that hidden-camera clip, the three were shown separately getting pulled over by the police. One by one, the same scenario played out: With careful editing, the men appeared to offer the police a bribe to extricate themselves. Each time, the police reprimanded the men for trying to buy their way out of trouble. Two of the men said the exchanges were doctored.

It is unknown who produced the videos. But the three men are part of Russia's liberal establishment with plenty of opponents in the country's ruling power structure, and that's who they suspect.

"It's absolutely clear that it cannot be done without special knowledge and special responsibilities," Fishman told ABC News, refusing to name which branch of government he believes is behind the tapes. "I know that they wear a uniform."

Yashin agreed that the authorities were behind it, writing on his blog that the attempted slander is "an ordinary provocation by the security forces."

Moscow's traffic police denied any involvement with the videos. The Federal Security Services refused to comment.

Videos Coincide With Street Demonstrations

The videos appeared on the Internet but were also posted on the Web sites of Nashi and Young Guard, nationalist youth organizations closely aligned with the Kremlin and the ruling United Russia party. They also denied any involvement.

A Young Guard spokesman told ABC News the group posted the videos because of their news value.

Andrey Soldatov, a security analyst, said he suspects that state authorities are connected because the videos showed the men sitting in police cars. But he is confused by the targets.

"I don't understand the message. It's stupid to do it against a journalist," he said. "These dirty techniques work against state officials, people who are elected."

The video of Yashin with the police was shot in September, he told the Moscow Times.

Fishman said both videos of him were shot several years ago and is unsure what else might be out there.

"I don't know about other videos, I don't know about what other parts of my private life were totally illegally watched," he said angrily.

Nikolai Petrov, a political analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center, said he believes they were released now because of a series of recent political protests in Russia, including last weekend's nationwide "Day of Wrath" that drew thousands of demonstrators into the streets.

"The fact that it became public now, it means the authorities are pretty careful with regards to social protests," Petrov said. "Either they're sending signals to everybody or they somehow put pressure on these guys and are showing that something bad can happen."

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PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin works out at Bocharov Ruchei residence in Sochi, Russia, Aug. 30, 2015.
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