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Sex Video Continues Smear Campaign Against Russia's Opposition

Last month, this video said to show "Newsweek" editor Mikhail Fishman snorting cocaine was released.
Last month, this video said to show "Newsweek" editor Mikhail Fishman snorting cocaine was released.
MOSCOW -- For the second time in a just over a month, Russian Internet users have been treated to a hidden-camera sex video targeting opposition figures.

The latest, a six-minute video streamed online on April 22, features individual clips of three opposition figures having sex with what appears to be the same woman, in the same apartment.

One of the men pictured is Viktor Shenderovich, a prominent satirist who hosts a weekly call-in show for RFE/RL's Russian Service. Also seen in the video are Aleksandr Potin, head of the nationalist Movement Against Illegal Immigrants, and a man resembling National Bolshevik leader Eduard Limonov.

Last month, a video posted on YouTube showed individual clips of "Newsweek" editor Mikhail Fishman, opposition activist Ilya Yashin, and political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin apparently paying bribes to traffic police. Fishman was also shown snorting a substance that appeared to be cocaine as a naked woman -- reportedly the same woman shown in the latest video -- walked around the apartment.

Kremlin 'Invading Personal Lives'

Tipped off that the video would appear on the Internet, Shenderovich admitted early on April 22 on the blog on his LiveJournal page that the video of him having sex with the woman was authentic. Shenderovich, who is married and has a daughter, accused the presidential administration of being behind the video and its release.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service today, Shenderovich said that for the last 10 years "I have read a lot of lies about myself, about unimaginable wages, foreign citizenship, links to [former Russian oligarch Boris] Berezovsky, mercenary activities, etc. There has been a heap of lies. They found only one truth [in 10 years.]"

Viktor Shenderovich (file photo)
The humorist came to fame in the 1990s as the writer behind the darkly satirical puppet show "Kukly," but has been marginalized to radio and opposition papers since Putin came to power.

Shenderovich accused state bureaucrats of using Russian citizens' money to invade personal lives, saying, "These video cameras can awake in any bedroom, any toilet."

Shenderovich said he knew the video was coming because he recognized the woman, who has come to be known as "Katya." The woman was previously identified by Yashin and others opposition activists and accused of luring opposition figures to an apartment in central Moscow, where they were offered drugs and sex.

Yashin, who was shown allegedly offering bribes in the first video, has admitted having sexual relations with Katya and another girl, although no sex video involving Yashin has emerged.

He has said he plans to appeal to the Prosecutor-General's Office to investigate the videos, and put the blame on people with ties to the Kremlin.

"I am certain that it is people with concrete links to the Russian government who are behind these provocations," Yashin said. "There are even certain people who need to be checked about these provocations -- it is [Kremlin official] Vladislav Surkov and [former leader of the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi] Vasily Yakemenko. I personally think that they are linked and will be in touch with the prosecutor-general to check."

Nashi has denied the accusations while the Kremlin has refused to comment on the record, but has denied them as ludicrous off the record.

Just The Beginning?

Experts doubt whether the videos will do much to discredit those involved, because few of the figures are known throughout the country. Vladimir Pribylovsky, an analyst at Moscow's Panorama political research group, doesn't believe that the popularity of the most famous of the men, Shenderovich, will be significantly harmed.

"Those who don't like Shenderovich will mock him -- so what," Pribylovsky says. "For those who like him, for men, it is not compromising material. Women may not like it that much."

Sex videos are not something that have a negative effect in Russia, Pribylovsky says, which could explain why no sex video of Yashin has appeared.

"Yashin said straight away that he was filmed with that Katya and another girl but the film has not appeared," Pribylovsky says. "Maybe the film didn't work or they decided that he is young, unmarried, and that it would help him increase his authority if it came out."

In his initial blog post, Shenderovich joked that he felt cheated because the security services had provided him with only one girl.

The worry for some in Moscow is that more smear videos will emerge. Yashin said that's making people more sympathetic -- because they could be next.

Axel Springer, the publisher of "Newsweek" in Russia, came out in strong support of the publication's editor, Fishman, saying he was the victim of a smear campaign "based on lies and provocations and interference into a private life."

Shenderovich suggested that future videos might attack more than opposition figures.

"There is discreditation -- cocaine, girls, sex toys, etc. -- and there is also blackmail. And according to my sources, which are quite reliable, these people have many other tapes in store," Shenderovich said.

"And in some cases we are not only talking about the opposition but about possible attempts to use these tapes for blackmail [of government officials], which is a lot more interesting for the public."

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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