Russia wants videos on YouTube and Instagram showing a senior government official cavorting on a yacht with an oligarch once close to Russian President Vladimir Putin taken down, leaving both companies scrambling to respond.
Alexey Navalny, a prominent opposition figure, posted a video Thursday on YouTube describing his investigation into Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire with ties to Putin and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.
Navalny found 2016 videos of Deripaska on his yacht with Sergey Prikhodko, Russia’s deputy prime minister, and said Deripaska could have been bribing Prikhodko and offering information about the 2016 U.S. election he had received from Manafort. (Manafort did offer to send Deripaska updates on the campaign via email in 2016, The Washington Post reported.)
Both men denied wrongdoing. Prikhodko said the issue would have to be settled “man to man,” and Deripaska accused Navalny of trying to ruin his reputation.
Actress, escort and model Anastasia Vashukevich ― who goes by the name Nastya Rybka ― took the videos and posted them online. She claimed in a book she wrote that she was hired as an escort on Deripaska’s boat, but her allegations weren’t taken seriously until Navalny’s expose last week, according to The New York Times.
Deripaska filed suit following Navalny’s investigation, accusing Vashukevich of illegally using private images. The government’s media watchdog, Roskomnadzor, then gave YouTube and Instagram three days to take the videos down or be investigated. It also demanded that YouTube remove the Navalny clip.
Navalny’s video was still on YouTube as of Wednesday, and had been viewed almost 5 million times. He tweeted that both sites were up and running in Russia, but could be shut down Wednesday night.
Instagram said it had no comment on Russia’s threat. YouTube didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. YouTube told the Times it hadn’t yet figured out how to react. Navalny, in an interview with the The Times of London published Wednesday, called for both companies to resist the demands of the Russian government.
Navalny has built a reputation on poking into well-known Russian figures and their questionable behavior. Russia banned Navalny from running in next month’s presidential election.
Deripaska’s ties with Manafort date back to 2005, when they reportedly signed a $10 million contract. But things went sour, and Deripaska sued Manafort and his associate Rick Gates earlier this year for $25 million in damages over the failed business dealings.
This article has been updated to include Instagram’s response.