Vladimir Putin
Credit: Global Panorama/flickr

Last night when I noticed that the Daily Caller had published an op-ed by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, I was intrigued. Given his close ties to Vladimir Putin, it seemed clear that whatever he had to say would represent the narrative the Russian president wanted spread about the Trump-Russia story.

Deripaska’s op-ed sounds an awful lot like the conspiracy theories we’re hearing from right-wing media these days, with a focus on discrediting the Steele dossier and warning about the so-called “deep state.” Where he takes it one step further is in claiming that Fusion GPS, the investigative firm that was responsible for the dossier, is “a shadow media organization helping the government, funded by a group of Silicon Valley billionaires and George Soros.” He also names Victoria Nuland, the Obama State Department official who was responsible for European and Eurasian affairs and was the point person on the Ukrainian crisis. Deripaska writes:

A former Obama State Department official, Nuland, has been recently outed as another shadow player, reviewing and disseminating Fusion’s dossier, and reportedly, hundreds of other dossiers over a period of years.

But in looking into the background of all of this, Deripaska’s motives for writing this op-ed probably go deeper than promoting Putin’s narrative and giving right-wing media some new villains to go after. The first thing to note is the long-term relationship between Paul Manafort and Deripaska. The best source for that is Franklin Foer’s profile of Manafort that was recently published in The Atlantic. If you haven’t already read that piece, I highly recommend that you do so.

When Manafort took his firm’s work beyond American politics and started recruiting global clients, one of the first to hire him was Russia’s richest oligarch at the time, Oleg Deripaska. You might remember that Manafort pitched him on a contract “to “influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and former Soviet Republics to benefit President Vladimir Putin’s government.” Deripaska claims that he never took Manafort up on that offer, but it is a fact that he hired him for work on securing his interests in Ukraine. That relationship went south when $18.9 million of Deripaska’s money for the purchase of a telecommunications firm disappeared. Manafort went into hiding.

One of the first people Manafort contacted when he got the job as Trump’s campaign manager was Konstantin Kilimnik, who became a go-between to reconnect with Deripaska. A series of emails between the two that have been made public begin with Manafort saying this (“OVD” refers to Oleg Vladimirovich Deripaska):

“I assume you have shown our friends my media coverage, right?” Manafort wrote.

“Absolutely,” Kilimnik responded a few hours later from Kiev. “Every article.”

“How do we use to get whole,” Manafort asks. “Has OVD operation seen?”

The email exchange continues until Kilimnik suggests a face-to-face meeting with Manafort saying, “I have several important messages from him [Deripaska] to you.” That meeting took place on August 2 in a Manhattan diner.

All of that information has been in the public domain for a while now. But this week, news of a high-end escort’s confinement in a jail in Thailand might be what spurred Deripaska to try to get out ahead of some pretty devastating revelations.

The escort, Nastya Rybka, had posted pictures and video on Instagram back in August 2016 of her presence on Deripaska’s yacht in Norway. They include proof that the Russian oligarch was present, along with Sergei Prikhodko, Russia’s deputy prime minister. In one video she posted, Deripaska says this:

We’ve got bad relations with America, because the friend of Sergei Eduardovich [Prikhodko], Nuland’s her name, is responsible for them. When she was your age, she’s spent a month on a Russian whaling boat. She hates our country after this. Why is that?

It is clear that Victoria Nuland has been in his crosshairs for a while now.

That yacht trip took place a couple of days after Manafort met with Kilimnik in New York. So Deripaska was meeting with Russia’s deputy prime minister within days of hearing from Manafort.

All of that is backed by concrete evidence. But having been jailed in Thailand for something completely unrelated, Nastya Rybka is now saying that she has 16 more hours of recordings from the yacht trip and that three of the people involved spoke fluent English, so she assumed they were American.

Rybka’s claims deserve to be met with some skepticism. John le Carré would be hard-pressed to beat this twisted tale. But the fact that Oleg Deripaska chose this moment to publish an op-ed in a conservative American publication doesn’t strike me as merely coincidence.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.