You may have read the name Anastasia Vashukevich splashed across news headlines in recent weeks, and asked yourself: Who is she? In short, she is something like the zillionth player in the ever-unfurling collusion saga between Russia and the Trump administration.
On Friday, the New York Times reported that Vashukevich, a 21-year-old Belarusian escort, model, and blogger, is offering damning information about Russia and the 2016 election, in exchange for asylum. Vashukevich, whose alias is Nastya Rybka, was detained in Thailand on 25th February, when authorities raided the resort where she was working as a trainer for a sex seminar. Thai authorities say they arrested her because she lacked the proper work permit; Vashukevich believes it’s the work of the Russian government.
Following her arrest, she posted a video to Instagram promising to reveal evidence documenting President Donald Trump’s ties to high-level Russian officials, if the U.S. agrees to set her free.
“I'm ready to give you all the missing puzzle pieces, support them with videos and audios, regarding the connections of our respected lawmakers with Trump, Manafort and the rest,” she says in the video, according to CNN’s translation. “I know a lot. I'm waiting for your offers and I'm waiting for you in a Thai prison.”
Speaking from the immigrant detention center where she is being held, Vashukevich told the New York Times on Monday that she has between 16 and 18 hours of audio recordings, in which Deripaska and his "associates" discuss the oligarch's "plan about the elections." Vashukevich added that she believes some of those associates may have been Americans.
"It is not only about me," she told the Times. "It concerns a lot of people in America and other countries."
The imbruglio traces back to Vashukevich’s relationship with Russian oligarch Oleg V. Deripaska, which she documented exhaustively on her Instagram account. Readers who have been following the Russia probe may recognise that name: As the Times reports, former Trump campaign advisor Paul Manafort was deeply indebted to Deripaska — to the tune of $19 million — and offered to provide “private briefings” to the aluminum magnate during the 2016 elections. Both Deripaska’s and Manafort’s camps have denied that said briefings ever took place, but nonetheless, Deripaska maintains a close connection to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the state.
Those connections assert themselves in another video Vashukevich posted to Instagram, in August 2016. In it, Deripaska and Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Sergey Prikhodko, can be seen in conversation on the deck of Deripaska’s yacht. The topic? Ailing relations between the U.S. and Russia.
Vashukevich’s footage recently caught the eye of Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader running an anti-corruption campaign against Putin. The young woman surfaced on Navalny’s radar after she and a group of activist sex workers showed up at his headquarters in September. When he did some research to figure out who they were, he noticed Deripaska featured in a number of Vashukevich’s Instagram photos. And then he found the yacht video.
Navalny dissected the post in a lengthy video segment available on his YouTube channel, cross-checking his theory against a passage from Vashukevich’s fictionalised tell-all, pulling corroborating details from a selection of her Instagram shots. Navalny posits that Deripaska bribed Prikhodko with a luxury cruise and female companionship, and may have functioned as a back channel between Russia and the U.S., via Manafort.
Late last month, special counsel Robert Mueller indicted Manafort on money laundering charges, which — at this point — have no demonstrated connection to the Trump campaign. Vashukevich says she can fill in those gaps, but Navalny told the Associated Press he’s not prepared to take her claims entirely at face value. “I think such statements are made because of fears for her own life because they have been detained in Thailand,” he said.
In a statement to the AP, Deripaska’s representative called the allegations “scandalous,” “mendacious,” “outrageous,” and “false.” According to CNN, he’s also suing Vashukevich — along with Alexander Kirillov, the “sex guru” in charge of the training sessions — for breach of privacy, as the Russian government attempts to block Navalny’s video.
Vashukevich, for her part, is still imprisoned in Thailand. She told the AP that she wouldn’t give up any information until she could be assured of her protection: “I can say something only when I will be in a safe place, sorry, because I am worried about my life.”
This story was originally published on 5th March 2018 at 12:44 p.m. It has since been updated.