An Instagram model and self-described “sex trainer” from Belarus, who last year drew international attention with unsubstantiated claims to have recordings relevant to the Russian election interference investigation, has been arrested at a Moscow airport on prostitution charges after she was deported from Thailand.
Anastasia Vashukevich, better known by her online persona Nastya Rybka, was drawn into the special counsel investigation in 2018 after Instagram videos surfaced of her aboard a yacht with Oleg Deripaska, a Kremlin-connected Russian oligarch with long-standing business ties to Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort. After Vashukevich was arrested in Thailand last year on work permit violations, she claimed to have recordings relating to Russia and the 2016 election, and promised to hand information over to the FBI if the agency would guarantee her safety.
No evidence ever emerged to support her claims, but the case has attracted significant media attention in Russia, mostly because of its salacious details and the high-profile characters involved.
On Thursday, Vashukevich and her collaborator, a self-described sex guru known as Alex Lesli, were detained with two others at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport when they landed after returning from Thailand. A court in that country convicted, then released them and seven others after they pleaded guilty to prostitution-related charges.
A video of Vashukevich's detention in Moscow was published on Friday by Ren-TV, a pro-Kremlin channel with ties to the security services, that showed several men trying to force Vashukevich into a wheel chair near passport control and then eventually taking her away, escorted by a uniformed police officer.
Russian police said in a statement that Vashukevich and Lesli, whose real name is an Alexander Kirillov, were now being detained on charges of enticement to prostitution. No charges had been previously announced and their arrest had not been expected and large crowd of journalists waiting for them at the airport’s arrivals area were surprised when they didn’t appear.
Vashukevich first attracted international attention when Russia’s most prominent opposition activist, Alexey Navalny, her videos and photos of her with Deripaska in an investigation alleging Kremlin corruption in February 2018.
The videos show Deripaska aboard a yacht off the coast of Norway with a top Kremlin official in August 2016, filmed by Vashukevich, who claimed in a book she wrote around the trip that she had been flown there with several other women and had sex with Deripaska.
Navalny asserted the video was proof that Deripaska had effectively bribed the official, Sergey Prikhodko, then a Russian deputy prime minister, by flying him to the yacht. Deripaska, a metals magnate who is one of Russia’s richest men, responded by suing Navalny and Vashukevich, claiming they had illegally published personal photos. Prikhodko told the Russian independent newspaper, RBC that “such stuff should be answered man-to-man, but we will leave in within the bounds of the legal field."
In Russia, attention has focused mostly on the corruption allegations, but what attracted global notice was Navalny’s speculation— made without evidence— that Deripaska and Prikhodko could have been discussing information provided by Paul Manafort about the 2016 elections. Emails first reported by The Washington Post, revealed that Manafort had allegedly offered “private briefings” to Deripaska on the U.S. election while he was overseeing Trump’s campaign that summer.
Manafort, who has been convicted on multiple charges of fraud and money laundering as well as “conspiracy against the United States” as part of the Special Counsel investigation, denied at the time that any briefing ever took place.
Deripaska sued Navalny and Vashukevich over the video alleging invasion of privacy, and a Russian court ordered them to pay roughly $8,000 each for posting information relating to his private life on the internet without his consent. After Deripaska won a court ruling, Russia’s state media watchdog at one point threatened to block YouTube and Instagram if the two sites did not remove the videos.
Vashukevich later seized on the possible link between her videos of Deripaska and Prikhodko and the U.S. election after she and Kirillov were arrested in Thailand three weeks later while they were conducting what they described as a "sex training” seminar there. She claimed publicly to have hours more recordings that would reveal more about the U.S. election and Russia, and promised to provide the FBI with information if they would guarantee her refuge in the U.S.
As the months passed though, she never revealed any new details and eventually told journalists that if she did have any materials, she would only give them to Deripaska. Many journalists concluded that she was likely hitching herself to the Russia investigation in the hope of escaping her legal predicament.
Kirillov’s partner, Kristina Sheremetyeva, on Thursday told ABC News that FBI agents had visited Vashukevich in Thai prison and asked about the materials, but she had refused to hand anything over. In March, CNN cited a Thai official who said that FBI agents had tried but failed to meet with her.
This week, a Thai court released Vashukevich and her seven co-defendants after they pleaded guilty to soliciting to provide sexual services. They were deported to Moscow, from where Vashukevich had hoped to fly on to her native Minsk.
Kristina Sheremetyeva said Thursday that Russia’s charges against Vashukevich and Kirillov were unfounded, and said she had feared possible trouble when they arrived in Moscow, without elaborating further.
Vashukevich and Kirillov had built a following as self-styled sex experts, holding seminars in Russia and abroad on seduction and promoting themselves as guides to sexual liberation on social media. Vashukevich's book chronicling her alleged affair with Deripaska is framed as a manual for how to seduce an oligarch. In it, she claims her mentor, Kirillov, had advised her to make recordings when she was with Deripaska.
Vashukevich and Kirillov had been holding one of their seminars when they were arrested in the Thai resort of Pattaya. Initially they were charged with visa infractions, but the charges went through several changes, growing more severe, eventually becoming prostitution-related.
Kirillov’s wife, Sheremetyeva denied that he and Vashukevich’s had ever had anything in common with prostitution and that their seminars never involved participants having sexual intercourse in them.
The pair had continued to insist that the shifting charges showed powerful foreign forces were pressuring the Thai police into prosecuting them.]. Some of Vashukevich’s released co-defendants told reporters at the airport they considered the Thai charges against them to have been trumped up.
In an August interview with The New York Times, Vashukevich seemed to suggest she wanted to reconcile with Deripaska, promising she would only handover the alleged recordings to him at a personal meeting.
At the Moscow airport on Thursday, Kristina Sheremetyeva said she didn’t think Vashukevich had any recordings that she had once hinted to have.
“Most likely, those files that interest them so much -- I don’t know what files they would have to be. There aren’t any such files,” Sheremetyeva told ABC News. “Nastya wrote a book about seducing men, she didn’t write there about corruption, or that she heard about some kind of secrets which could, I don’t know, impact the international community.”