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Russia Blocks Aleksei Navalny’s Website, After His Inquiry Into an Oligarch

February 15, 2018

Mr. Navalny used Ms. Vashukevich’s material to compile a video investigation, posted last week, claiming that the trip was a bribe from Mr. Deripaska to Mr. Prikhodko, that Ms. Vashukevich was a high-class escort and that she was one of “several” prostitutes aboard the yacht. The video has been watched more than 5 million times.

A court in Ust-Labinsk, a town in southern Russia where Mr. Deripaska went to school and where he pays some of his taxes, then ordered news media outlets and social media platforms, including Instagram and YouTube, to remove the offending material. The court instructed Russia’s communications watchdog, Roskomnadzor, to enforce its decision.

Many websites complied with the order. Ms. Vashukevich removed the material from her Instagram account, but as of late Thursday, Mr. Navalny’s investigation was still available on YouTube.

That an order from a local court in Russia’s politicized judiciary would be dutifully followed by a major government agency raised immediate questions among Kremlin opponents about whether Mr. Deripaska, who has close ties to President Vladimir V. Putin and other Kremlin officials, had been acting on behalf of the government to silence Mr. Navalny.

The opposition leader thought so, citing the Kremlin’s desire to sideline Mr. Navalny ahead of the presidential election next month. “This is a pretext to block the resources we use to conduct our election boycott campaign, to gather observers on polling stations to prevent the government from rigging the turnout at the upcoming election,” he said in a video statement earlier this week.

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Mr. Deripaska, who has emerged as a central figure in the investigations of Russian meddling in the 2016 United States presidential campaign, said through a spokesman that Mr. Navalny’s allegations of bribery and prostitutes were a “hot story that appears far from being the truth.”

He also denied that the lawsuit had been a veiled attempt to muzzle Mr. Navalny. “Mr. Deripaska’s claim is to protect his right for privacy and has nothing to do with any political struggle between Mr. Navalny and his political opponents,” the spokesman said in an emailed statement.

The spokesman denied any ulterior motives in the actions of the government agency, Roskomnadzor, asserting: “Any suggestion that it acted at the instruction of the Russian government is ludicrous.”

But Mr. Navalny’s supporters asked why, if there had been no political motive, the agency did not just block the webpage carrying the investigation itself, rather than the entire website and some related ones.

With most news media outlets controlled by the government, Mr. Navalny’s website is virtually his only vehicle for distributing his investigations of corruption among members of Mr. Putin’s inner circle.

Over the past year, Mr. Navalny has used his website as part of an abortive campaign for president. He was banned from running against Mr. Putin because of a criminal conviction that he and rights advocates say was politically motivated. Having been stopped from campaigning, Mr. Navalny then devoted his energies to organizing a boycott of the vote, scheduled for March.

Mr. Navalny and his team created mirror websites and called on supporters to use virtual private networks, or VPNs, which enable them to avoid access restrictions.

“Every one of us should learn how to bypass blocks,” Mr. Navalny said. “This becomes a mandatory skill for life in Russia.”

A version of this article appears in print on February 16, 2018, on Page A7 of the New York edition with the headline: Russia Blocks Website of Dissident Who Accused Oligarch. Order Reprints|Today’s Paper|Subscribe

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