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Katyagate: Russia's Hooker Trap Snags Another Kremlin Critic, and This Time it Hurts

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It was funny at first, but now a Kremlin critic with some actual moral standing has gotten caught up in the latest Russian honey trap, which has been baiting one opposition figure after another with hookers, coke, weed, dildoes and hidden cameras, or some sloppy combination of these, for the past two years at least.

Wait, I should correct myself, there's really just one hooker, but she certainly gets around. Identified by one of her luckier victims as a part-time model named Ekaterina Gerasimova -- Katya for short -- her latest video shows her shagging Viktor Shenderovich, a journalist and master of satire who has been picking away at Vladimir Putin's credibility for a decade, more effectively than anyone else I can think of.

From among the opposition, he is one of the only people whose wit came down from a moral pedestal. His reputation was clean, and it's hard to compare his significance to anyone in the West. I'm tempted to say Jon Stewart, at least in the sense of being a political gadfly, and a very funny one. But the crucial difference is that Stewart does not live under an authoritarian regime, and Shenderovich does. That means his job is to ensure not the health and sanity of the political debate but its survival. And for a media landscape controlled by the state, he's been doing a damn fine job.

But his romp with Katya, which was exposed on Thursday in an Internet clip, will be a lot more painful than the other episodes in this scandal for Russia's anemic opposition. The first installment involved Mikhail Fishman, the thirty-something editor of Russian Newsweek, who was videotaped chopping coke for a half-naked girl sitting beside him in an apartment. With a nostalgic Soviet ballad playing in the background, the crassly edited tape then shows us a butt-naked Fishman coming into the room, picking his briefs off the floor and proceeding to finish off what's left of the coke. The clip was posted on the internet last month.

Fishman's friend Ilya Yashin, one of the leaders of the dissident Solidarity movement, saw it soon after and decided to make a sort of pre-emptive confession on his blog. It turns out he had gone out with the girl in the Fishman video back in 2008, and said it was Katya Gerasimova, nickname Moomoo. He claims that after they'd dated for a while, Katya invited a friend named Nastya to help them play with her rubber dildo collection and bondage gear. Fair enough. But then Katya poured a bag of powder onto a stool and told him he needed to relax, and Yashin sensed something was shifty. He says he gathered up his stuff and left.

Another member of the Solidarity movement, Roman Dobrokhotov, soon told a similar story on his own blog, also involving Katya, who he says invited him back to that same apartment in 2009 and asked him to role a joint from a pile of weed that was lying on the table. He claims he also smelled a set-up and got the hell out of there.

But all these guys have come away pretty clean (politically) from banging this girl, mainly because they have the sowing-oats excuse. They are single, young, and high on their own meagre prominence in the opposition movement. If anyone really denounced them after this, it was mostly the grumbling Putin loyalists who were already convinced beyond redemption that the opponents of the regime are all secret jewish drug addicts with venereal disease. So nothing much changed on that front. And as for the more liberal-minded Russians, they mostly laughed the whole thing off, because the scandal up to that point was far more embarrassing for its organizers. Whether it was the security services or the Kremlin youth group Nashi, the trap was clumsy, and it didn't work. A couple of weeks later, I saw Fishman cavorting around at Moscow's Cafe Mayak, clearly none the worse for wear.

But with Shenderovich it is different. Unsurprisingly, he has already blamed the secret police for setting up the whole show, but when he tried to put on his old armor of righteous comedy, it didn't quite seem to fit anymore. "Comrades of the secret police!," he wrote in his blog at 3 a.m. on Friday morning (hopefully after having a talk with his wife and daughter). "This is age-based discrimination. You're telling me that the young opposition leaders get two free girls and a dose of cocaine, but us middle-aged ones get one girl and no party favors? Have you no shame? In any case, what am I talking about."

Lower down, he gets into the recriminations against Putin's regime, but those also start to ring hollow this time, and even a little defeated. "As the result of an enormous ten-year operation, they have finally managed to find something on me: I fucked Katya. My congratulations to the warriors of the secret front - now, I hope, the opposition is finally vanquished, and you can turn your attention to catching [Russia's most-wanted terrorist] Doku Umarov."

Maybe they will, but I doubt it. This is part of their reason for being, to discredit the opposition, to tear guys like Shenderovich down from their moral high-ground. To what extent they have succeeded will become clear as this scandal plays out, but in any case, it already hurts.