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The Quiet Americans Behind the U.S.-Russia Imbroglio

31 May 2018 The New York Times

so far this year — a year that hasn’t lacked for them — revolves around a Belarusian escort named Anastasia Vashukevich, who goes by the name Nastya Rybka. Rybka, whose pseudonym means “little fish,” is a prolific Instagrammer, a teacher of “sex workshops” and the author of a how-to book, “Who Wants to Seduce a Billionaire?” She became famous in Russia this year for having chronicled, on Instagram, her 2016 affair with one particular billionaire, Oleg Deripaska. A few weeks later, she caught the world’s attention after she was arrested in Thailand in the middle of a sex workshop and then claimed, from the back of a police van, that she possessed information that could blow the investigation into Russian meddling in the American presidential election wide open.This strange story included an intriguing detour into the recent history of United States foreign policy. One of Rybka’s initial posts on the Deripaska affair was a short audio clip from a conversation that took place on the oligarch’s yacht in August 2016. As they sailed off the coast of Norway, Rybka and Deripaska were joined by an influential Kremlin official named Sergei Eduardovich Prikhodko, and in the clip, Deripaska, who made his fortune during the violent aluminum wars of the 1990s, explains some things about geopolitics to Rybka, who was 26 at the time. “Our relations with America are bad,” Deripaska says. “Why? Because the person in charge of them is Sergei Eduardovich’s ‘friend’ — Nuland is what she is called. When she was young — about your age — she spent a month living on a Soviet whaling vessel. Ever since then, she’s hated our country.”Deripaska was referring to Victoria Nuland, a longtime American government official and “Russia hand,” as Russia experts are sometimes known, who at the time of the video was assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia. Nuland had in fact, as Deripaska said, spent time aboard a Soviet vessel (fishing, not whaling) in the mid-1980s; whether she hated Russia ever after is a subject of some dispute. She spent three decades in various posts in the State Department and the White House. In 2013, as a newly confirmed assistant secretary of state, she became the point person for the increasingly fraught situation in Ukraine, where large protests against the president, following his decision to pull out of an economic agreement with the European Union, eventually led to his ouster. Early in the protests, Nuland was filmed handing out sandwiches, pastries and cookies to the demonstrators in what some viewed as a provocative show of solidarity. Later, as the government began to totter, she made a call that was intercepted and leaked online, most likely by Russian intelligence, in which she discarded the notion of working with the E.U. to resolve the crisis. “[Expletive] the E.U.,” she memorably said.What was remarkable about the episode was the utter confidence with which Nuland seemed to speak for the United States and its policy. From the start of his administration, President Barack Obama had tried to lower tensions with Russia and refocus American attention on a rising China; he had made clear he wanted no part in the problems of the post-Soviet periphery. Yet in the middle of the uprising in Kiev, there was Nuland, encouraging protesters and insulting European allies. And after the call leaked, it was Nuland, as much as Obama, who came to personify American policy for everyday Russians — to the point that a professional sex coach like Rybka knows more about her biography than all but a handful of Americans. Continue reading the main story

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