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Navalny Trolls Putin

Anyone who wants a glimpse of the information wars that could lie in America’s future should have a look, immediately, at Alexei Navalny’s latest video (it’s got English subtitles). The video so annoyed Oleg Deripaska, the video’s oligarch anti-hero, that he has just persuaded Russia’s media regulator to block it. Navalny, Russia’s best known dissident — he tried to run for president but was blocked — so annoys the Kremlin that Muscovites spray-painted his name on their sidewalks after a recent storm, hoping that would persuade municipal authorities to remove the snow. It worked.

Like most of Navalny’s productions, this one is a cross between investigative journalism and a piece of video entertainment, a serious exposé of corruption sprinkled with memes and jokes. But this time the inspiration was unusual. Navalny’s offices are often attacked — by police, by police dressed as “Cossacks,” by “spontaneous” groups of pensioners and, once, by prostitutes (or, in any case, women dressed as prostitutes). They came into his campaign offices, followed by cameramen who just happened to be there, draped themselves over the furniture and then left. This is modern authoritarian propaganda at its purest: The Russian state, at least for the moment, has decided not to arrest Navalny but to mock him, belittle him and undermine him.

This time Navalny flipped the story back at them. Studying the photographs of the women who’d visited their office, his team used facial recognition software to identify one of them as Nastya Rybka, author of “How to Seduce a Billionaire” and purveyor of an Instagram account packed with photographs of Deripaska and his yacht. Close reading of both the book and the pictures, plus a search of shipping and flight manifests, produced another discovery: Rybka and Deripaska had not been alone on that yacht. A senior Russian official, Sergei Prikhodko, a man who has quietly served in multiple Russian presidential administrations since the 1990s, was also on the boat.

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