Who’s behind the spate of mysterious coke-and-hooker entrapment attacks on Russian opposition figures?
It’s hard to imagine the West’s go-to henchman, Vladimir Putin, or his technocratic heir, Dmitry Medvedev, orchestrating a campaign so wrongheaded, so jaw-droppingly terrible in both planning and execution, that everyone, including its targets, can only sit back and enjoy the circus.
It all started last week, when an amateur video, loftily titled “The Word and the Deed,” popped up on YouTube featuring three unwitting stars: opposition activist Ilya Yashin, political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin, and the editor in chief of the Russian edition of Newsweek, Mikhail Fishman. Using heavily edited hidden-camera footage shot inside police cars, the video purported to show all three attempting to bribe their way out of a speeding ticket. This alone didn’t quite add up to outrage—Russia’s traffic police force is almost totally corrupt; in addition, the footage was so sloppily and obviously cobbled together that none of the three men was shown completing a single sentence.
“The surprise was Nastya, and both of them dragged me into bed as soon as I came through the door. I’d be lying if I said I resisted. Everything was fine until Katya produced a whole pile of sex toys: dildos, whips, handcuffs, ball gags.”
But with the second wave of attacks, on Monday, things got much more entertaining. This time, the footage showed Fishman sitting in a Moscow apartment next to a seminude young woman with a digitally obscured face. In front of him was a stool with some powder on it.
When Yashin saw the second video, he immediately recognized the apartment. “I was there,” he wrote on his blog, preempting the next hit. “I also know the girl. Her name is Katya Gerasimova, nicknamed Moomoo, and she works in a modeling agency called Progress.”
Yashin continued: “In the summer of 2008, I met two fun girls, Katya and Nastya, who said they were students moonlighting as models. Katya impressed me, and we dated for a bit… One night she called me up and asked me to come to her apartment right away. She said she had a surprise for me. The surprise was Nastya, and both of them dragged me into bed as soon as I came through the door. I’d be lying if I said I resisted. Everything was fine until Katya produced a whole pile of sex toys: dildos, whips, handcuffs, ball gags.”
When Yashin suspected something was off, Katya “said I needed to relax, brought over a stool, put it next to the sofa and spread some powder over it.” Finally convinced this was a setup for a camera, Yashin dressed and left. (It seems prudent to note that he is 27 years old and single.)
Soon, other victims of Katya/Moomoo’s dubious charms came out of the woodwork. Yashin’s fellow member of the liberal opposition Solidarity movement, Roman Dobrokhotov, recalled a time in 2009 when Katya, then calling herself Zhanna, invited him over to the same apartment, where, that time, a large pile of marijuana lay on the table.
“I forget how to roll a joint,” she complained. “Would you help me?” “I don’t really know how to,” answered Dobrokhotov. “Would you do it anyway?” she asked, immediately sending the would-be victim down the stairs and out into the street.
Dobrokhotov also posted cheesecake shots of Katya, clearly the same person, on his blog.
The first and most obvious reaction to all this nonsense is that the Russian opposition doesn’t really need sabotaging. It’s completely neutered as is, and lives on a clearly delineated reservation: LiveJournal, the radio station Echo of Moscow, the television channel Ren-TV, the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and a few other inconsequential outlets with little reach beyond the capital. Yashin and Dobrokhotov are twentysomethings who hold no elected post; Fishman and Oreshkin harbor no visible political aspirations. This sudden breakdown of the unspoken pact between the Kremlin and the “liberals”—you don’t develop national ambitions, and we let you preach to your fancy choir—could mean one of two things. One is that the system is wobblier than thought, President Medvedev’s liberalization promises are about to bear fruit, and Russia’s internal security service, the FSB, sensing uncertainty for the first time in years, is wasting no chance to tar every possible breakout star of the opposition. That would be almost heartening.
The other possibility is that the smear campaign is the handiwork of an off-the-script underling. (This happens quite a bit in the modern Russia: Most of the censorship on television, for example, is born not of direct orders from above but of various flunkies’ blind guesses as to what would please their bosses in the Kremlin.) In this case, Nashi—the pro-government youth “movement” that the administration uses to beef up headcounts at various rallies and to sic on the occasional dissident—would be a prime candidate. The organization is just useless enough, and its members just dumb enough, to concoct something like this. Sadly for Russia, this version appears far more realistic.
At any rate, the damage to the targeted men’s reputations appears minimal. In the blogosphere, its intended spreading environment, the stunt may even have backfired. “Let me get this straight,” wrote Ilya Krasilschik, the editor of Afisha magazine, commenting on a Facebook status update after the scandal broke and summing up much of the popular sentiment. “You fight the regime, and in exchange the regime brings you free chicks and blow? Duly noted.”
Michael Idov is a contributing editor at New York magazine and has covered Russia for The New Republic. His debut novel, Ground Up, has just been released.