By now you've probably heard about the Russian model trapped in a Thai jail who claims to have hard evidence of Russia meddling in America's elections. Over the past week, Nastya Rybka's story has been broadcast by major media outlets such as CNN and The New York Times—and largely received like just another gratuitous twist in the MAGA plotline, another pretty young thing who claims to have dirt on Donald Trump and has every reason in the world not to be trusted.
Rybka may turn out to know nothing at all about Trump, Russia, and election influence. But in theory, at least, she has a plausible claim to having obtained relevant dirt.
She left a trail of evidence of her 2016 affair with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska—a Vladimir Putin ally and Paul Manafort business associate—across Instagram, Periscope, and YouTube. These posts led Russian journalists to discover that Deripaska had been visited on his yacht off Norway by a high-ranking Russian official, and led Russian authorities to threaten to shut down YouTube and Instagram if they didn't remove reports on this. And the Russian official was far from the only important figure that Deripaska met while Rybka was around, she says.
Rybka now claims to have audio of Deripaska's conversations that could reveal information about Russia trying to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In a video from a Thai police car after her arrest, Rybka says she is "the only missing link in the chain related to Russia and elections in the United States"—a chain that links Deripaska, "Putin, and Trump"—and is "ready to provide" her evidence "to the United States, Europe, or any other country that can bail me out of Thai jail."
Since Rybka's story hit the U.S media, many have cast doubt on her claim by virtue of its timing, assuming it nothing more than a ruse to get out of trouble in Thailand. But Rybka—who has said her real fear is being sent back to Russia—was alluding to sensitive geopolitical information before her February 26 arrest.
"In my book 'Who wants to seduce a billionaire' there are many facts that hurt influential people of several countries," Rybka wrote in a February 22 Instagram post. "Some readers have reacted to it skeptically, believing that the book has artistic fiction. But friends, EVERYTHING there is a real story."
The real story of Nastya Rybka's involvement in geopolitical intrigue is far weirder than has been widely told and may be more benign than many would assume.
Seduction School Meets Geopolitics
Neither the 21-year-old Moscow model nor her mentor seem to be political people.
Rybka was hired with a cabal of other young models to socialize at one of Deripaska's yacht parties in 2016. She didn't know who he was at first, she said in a recent interview, but was interested in him because he was confident and powerful.
Born in Belarus as Anastasia Vashukevich, Rybka has spent the past several years as a protegee of the pickup artist and seduction coach Alex Lesley. Along with a few others, Rybka and Lesley fly around the world teaching sexual skills and seduction techniques to men and women. Their books (both have authored a few) and social media accounts serve as marketing for these classes, by providing evidence of their prowess at seduction.
But Rybka also seems to vacillate between viewing seduction as a "game" she is playing on poor billionaires and having a real attachment to her "victims." On Instagram, Rybka portrays herself not as a sex worker or companion-for-hire (as many places have reported) but a model, author, educator, and "huntress" with a passion for sex, travel, and collecting experience, not cash.
She calls herself "the Goldfish"—a nod to her status as a catch for wealthy men who like to go "fishing" for pretty young women—and can be found defending Harvey Weinstein and opining that only a "sexually ill society" attacks "healthy" oligarchs and politicians for "fishing and entertain[ing]…young girls. They give an opportunity to taste their fucking life with them!"
In a series of pre-arrest posts, Rybka details her feelings for Deripaska and her dealings with Progress Party leader (and fierce Putin critic) Alexei Navalny. Navalny revealed Rybka's affair with Deripaska in early February, as part of a story on Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko vacationing on Deripaska's yacht. He was able to tell the story thanks to audio and images Rybka had previously shared publicly online.
In an interview for Navalny's YouTube channel*, Rybka explained that the only reason she posted photos of her and Deripaska together and wrote books about her time with him was as a "seduction technique," to get his attention, because he had stopped contacting her. Rybka apparently recorded her Deripaska-seduction techniques in a series of three books, though only two have been published so far. A political friend read the second one and said "we're going to get killed if we publish it," so they held off, Rybka said.
Her first book "details her training in seduction by sex guru Lesley, whose real name is Aleksandr Kirillov, and subsequent interactions with ultra-wealthy and powerful men," writes Todd Ruiz at the Thai news site Khaosdenglish, which ran an English-language excerpt from the book in which Rybka explains how she got away with recording Deripaska. The recordings were Lesley's idea, so they could use her experience to teach about seduction.
In his interview for Navalny's channel, Lesley called himself a "seduction coach" and said the real story here is not the "political story" but that a girl from a humble roots in Belarus could get this powerful man's attention and that her seduction methods "worked on the oligarch."
You can watch these interviews for yourself below, and check out both Lesley and Rybka's social accounts. Perhaps it's all part of some bigger and yet untold con. But if their present tales are true, it would mean that in the middle of some sort of loopy pickup-artist pyramid scheme, they managed to unveil potential corruption within Russia and possibly even stumble on something much bigger.
Pleas From Prison
So what's next for Rybka and Lesley? Both were arrested, along with eight others, in the Thai town of Pattaya last week.
The arrests took place after a raid "while they were giving certificates in sexual skills to 43 compatriots in a Pattaya hotel room," according to the Bangkok Post. "A police investigation found that a Russian couple, who were among the arrested suspects, had set up an institute for sex science in Thailand." All were charged with being and working in the country without permission, and Thai immigration police ordered them deported.
Thai authorities say a customer dissatisfied with the course reported them. But in a letter to the U.S. consulate, Lesley has suggested that their arrests and subsequent treatment stem from talking about the information they have on powerful figures in Russia.
In the weeks before being arrested, Rybka's Instagram had taken a sudden political turn, ever since Navalney's reporting had thrust her into the spotlight. On February 21, for instance, she complained that Facebook was censoring a video which many say "is the missing link proving Russia's interference in US elections" and appealed to Americans to "deal with Zuckerberg! Now he decides—to hide or not the important clues for America."
"Oleg Deripaska told me that all people are corrupt, both the media and the Internet, are all biased, and I can see it now," Rybka's post continuted. "The world is ruled by the limited group of people who make decisions for billions! I stand up for freedom of dissemination of information, especially if it concerns the shadow games that can lead to the third world war and the destruction of the earth!" A few days earlier she had posted that "because of the Goldfish, the next world war will be unleashed."
More marketing hype? Perhaps. But even if that's all it is, it's possible Rybka's game was good enough that people in power believed her.
"We know that Russia made in 1 day some criminal case and asked Thailand to give us to Russia," Rybka posted to Instagram a few days after her arrest. "They tell that in 3-4 days Russians wait us. Don't give them us, please USA save us from Russia!"
In a subsequent post that same day, she wrote: "If we go back to Russia we will die in Russian's prison or they will kill us."
A U.S. citizen in touch with the group (whom Rybka designated on Instagram as her spokesperson) told me this morning that he was not allowed to visit Rybka and the others today and that he was told he can't for at least two more weeks because he helped bring in too many journalists earlier this week.
But while it remains to be seen whether any of Rybka's recordings are actually relevant to Trump's campaign or the U.S. election, is there anyone who would really be surprised one way or the other at this point? The past two years have been marked by ever-expanding political absurdity, a paradigm shift in geopolitical weirdness. It would be right in keeping with the general tenor of the Trump era if the key to this major geopolitical mystery was found in the Instagram posts of a small-town girl just trying to brag about how she seduced a Russian oligarch.
* Updated to reflect that Rybka and Lesley's interview was with an interviewer for Alexei Navalny's YouTube channel.