Russia has threatened to shut down YouTube and Instagram unless they agree to remove a video accusing Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Prikhodko of corruption.
Putin’s arch-foe, opposition leader Alexey Navalny, posted a half-hour video last week purportedly showing Kremlin-linked oligarch Oleg Deripaska — a billionaire, who also has ties to US President Donald Trump’s ex-campaign manager, Paul Manafort — hanging out on a yacht off the coast of Norway with Prikhodko along with a woman described by Navalny as coming from “an escort service.”
Navalny’s investigation, published on his website on February 8 is based mostly on the social-media account of a young Belarusian woman who calls herself Nastya Rybka, and who claims to have had an affair with Deripaska.
Rybka posted several videos in 2016 showing herself and Deripaska on his yacht talking with Prikhodko.
Navalny claims the holiday on the billionaire’s yacht amounts to a “bribe,” and points to a relationship between Deripaska and Manafort, suggesting the two Russians may have been discussing the 2016 US presidential election.
“An oligarch takes a top government official on a ride on his own yacht — that’s a bribe,” Navalny says in the video. “An oligarch pays for all of this, including young women from escort agencies. Believe it or not, this is also a bribe.”
In the 2000s, Deripaska was barred from entering the United States after the State Department raised questions about possible connections to Russian organised crime groups.
Deripaska won an order from the Ust-Labinsk court in his native Krasnodar Region ordering the removal of 14 Instagram posts and seven YouTube videos that “breached his right to privacy”. Russian communications watchdog Roskomnadzor included the materials on its register of blacklisted sites following the court order.
An unnamed representative for Deripaska told the Interfax news agency on February 10 that the businessman was filing a lawsuit against Rybka and a Belarus-born man who goes by the name Alex Lesley for posting details of his private life on social media.
Navalny was not named in the suit, the representative said.
According to an AFP report, the Navalny investigation had received more than 4 million views on YouTube as of February 13.
LinkedIn has been blocked in Russia, by the same Roskomnadzor, since November 2016 after refusing to store Russian users’ data.
Roskomnadzor (Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Telecom, Information Technologies and Mass Communications) is the Russian internet watchdog with close ties to the country’s FSB intelligence services. It can close websites on a whim, even without a court order.
Independent television channels were eliminated and press regulations tightened in Putin’s first terms as president between 2000-2008. Until now, the internet had remained Russia’s last relatively uncensored platform for public debate and an expression of independent political opinions.
The Kremlin has tried various tactics to suppress Russian citizens’ right to free speech online over the years. Such moves, usually implemented through Rozkomnadzor by its own initiative or at the request of courts or the General Prosecutor, consists of blacklists, regulations, intimidations, and cyber-attacks.
The Russian media regulator is also trying to force foreign internet companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google to comply with a law to register with the agency and store six months of archives of metadata on Russian soil.
In spite of the refusal of big foreign internet companies to share data with the Russia authorities, the FSB says it now has a method to collect encryption keys to spy on users’ data, including means to decode to information from Facebook, WhatsApp and Telegram.