It might have been any collection of satisfied diners posing with a grateful chef and waitstaff outside a Tokyo restaurant. But this one was marked by the presence of three influential Russians: Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s longtime foreign minister; Oleg Deripaska, a controversial oligarch close to President Vladimir Putin; and Gennady Rovner, a former oil executive and oil-and-gas industrialist.
Posing with the three Russians is Angelo Koo, chairman of the China Development Foundation of Taiwan, a country with which Russia has no formal relations.
The photograph can be geolocated to March 20 or 21, 2018, based on travel records previously obtained by Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation. During these dates, Lavrov was on an official visit in Japan during which he famously implied that U.K. authorities were holding Sergei and Yulia Skripal against their will. Russian military intelligence officers had poisoned the Skripals with the Novichok weapons-grade nerve agent two weeks earlier. Another photo includes Lavrov’s long-time interpreter and aide, speaking about the official nature of his visit.
Also of interest are two of this retinue’s female consorts. Standing to Lavrov’s right in the image is Svetlana Polyakova, a sometime actor, restaurateur and employee at Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and also his mistress. Sandwiched between Lavrov and Deripaska, and evidently the latter’s companion on the trip, is a woman in her early 20s named Ekaterina Lobanova.
In collaboration with The Insider, New Lines has identified Lobanova as a Russian erotic model. She would not be the first porn model or sex worker Deripaska has traveled the world with, although she is the first to be publicly seen with the U.S.-sanctioned oligarch in the company of Russia’s top diplomat, sanctioned in February for being “directly responsible for Russia’s unprovoked and unlawful further invasion of Ukraine.”
New Lines reached out to Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry. The ministry “ignored the request,” Zakharova replied.
Lobanova is a prolific erotic model with her explicit photos ornamenting porn sites with names such as naked.me and peasex.com. In a particularly steamy shot, she is presented reclining on an embroidered black sofa completely naked save for stockings and shoes. Her talents are advertised in a word salad of broken English under the category of “young curly blonde girl” and the attendant ID number, 819795. Lobanova “shows lewd lust and desires,” the ad reads, going on to describe her as feeling like “a genuine whore who wants to be shagged caressingly.”
Lobanova’s identity was verified using facial recognition software including Pimeyes.com and Findclone.Ru.
New Lines was also able to confirm the date of the photograph, which has previously not appeared publicly, by checking flight data for Polyakova and Rovner. Both were in Japan on March 20 and 21, 2018, records show.
While Lavrov’s official visit to Japan was a matter of public record, the fact that he was accompanied by Deripaska was not known until now. The exact circumstances of the group’s reunion in Tokyo remain unclear, but the photograph confirms previous reporting about Lavrov and Polyakova’s extracurricular activities as well as of Deripaska’s penchant for going overseas with high-ranking Russian officials in the company of young women in the sex industry.
In 2017, Navalny released a video showing that in August 2016, Deripaska sailed to Norway aboard his superyacht, Elden, with a Belarusian sex worker, Anastasia Vashukevich, also known as Nastya Rybka. In attendance, too, was Sergei Prikhodko, Russia’s deputy prime minister, who had previously served in various government roles beginning in Boris Yeltsin’s administration in the ‘90s. Like Lavrov, Prikhodko’s bailiwick is international affairs and eyebrow-raising liaisons with Deripaska.
In a video Vashukevich recorded and posted to her Instagram account, the oligarch is shown discussing the deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations primarily as a function of then-U.S. Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland, who Deripaska said “hates” Russia. Navalny alleged that the oligarch’s hosting of Prikhodko on his boat (and also on his private jet) constituted a “bribe” — one borne out by Prikhodko’s lavish country palace and Moscow apartment, the costs of both far exceeding his modest state salary. Navalny also linked the recording, captured offhandedly by Vashukevich and written up with thinly veiled references to the relevant parties in her book “Diary of the Seduction of a Billionaire,” to Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
According to Navalny, Deripaska, who was sanctioned by the U.S. in 2018 in conjunction with Russia’s seizure of Crimea, works as an information-gatherer for the Kremlin and/or its security services. Such a plenipotentiary role was most famously on display in his dealings with Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign chair and a corrupt lobbyist on behalf of Ukraine’s pro-Russian government headed by former President Viktor Yanukovych. Manafort owed Deripaska $10 million from a loan for a failed joint business venture and likely repaid it in kind in the form of private briefings about the state of the Trump campaign, which Navalny and others have said were intended for more influential audiences at the heart of the Russian government.
Manafort was convicted in 2018 in a U.S. federal court on multiple counts of tax evasion, bank fraud, failure to disclose a hidden foreign bank account and conspiracy. Sentenced to seven and a half years in prison, he was pardoned by Trump in December 2020.
His business partner, Konstantin Kilimnik — a Russian intelligence officer, according to the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee — passed sensitive Trump campaign polling data to Deripaska, presumably with the same intent. (The Ukraine-born Kilimnik is currently wanted by the FBI on charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.)
Vashukevich was arrested in Pattaya, Thailand, in February 2018 for conducting “sex training” sessions. Vashukevich offered more details about Russia’s meddling in American democracy in exchange for asylum in the U.S. “I’m ready to give you all the missing puzzle pieces, support them with videos and audios, regarding the connections of our respected lawmakers with Trump, Manafort and the rest,” she said. “I know a lot. I’m waiting for your offers and I’m waiting for you in a Thai prison.”
She never received asylum. After being released and then arrested in Russia, possibly at Deripaska’s orchestration, she was released two days later, amid reports that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko intervened in her case.
Polyakova has been romantically linked to Lavrov since the early 2000s. Her identity was disclosed in 2014 when she received a religious award from the Russian Orthodox Church in the presence of the long-serving foreign minister. She has traveled with Lavrov extensively over the years, to about 60 countries. In addition to Japan, they include Italy, Portugal, France and Switzerland. Some trips have been on official Russian diplomatic business.
According to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), Polyakova “even appeared in cell phone address books under his last name.” Lavrov, 72, is still legally married to Maria Lavrova, with whom he has a daughter, although his relationship with Polyakova is said to approach that of a common-law second marriage.
Lavrov’s unofficial wife is also rich, far wealthier than one might expect of a Russian bureaucrat or the owner of largely unsuccessful restaurant businesses. Real estate registered in her or her family’s name is worth close to $14 million, the OCCRP reported. These include an apartment in Moscow’s elite “Golden Mile” neighborhood and one in Sochi, where she and Lavrov have vacationed together.
One property that has gained scrutiny in light of Russia’s war in Ukraine is in Kensington, London, and registered to PPK Investments Ltd, a company owned by Polyakova’s daughter Polina Kovaleva. In 2016, then just 21, Kovaleva entered into a 999-year lease for the apartment in the tony London postcode for $6.2 million — all cash.
Around the time her mother was photographed with Lavrov, Deripaska and Lobanova in Tokyo, Kovaleva was enrolled in a master’s program at Britain’s Imperial College London. The Financial Times noted that she has worked “as intern and in junior roles at the Russian state-owned bank VTB Capital, the commodities trader Glencore and the Saudi state oil company Saudi Aramco.”
On March 24, 2022, the U.K. government included Kovaleva, whom it described as Lavrov’s “stepdaughter,” in its sanctions list, freezing her assets in London, including her Kensington digs, and banning her from traveling to and from the country.
Kovaleva revealed her own relationship with Deripaska on social media. On her since-deleted Instagram, she is shown lounging at his villa in Sardinia and, naturally, aboard one of his yachts.
With additional reporting from Christo Grozev.