Woman caught in videotaped tryst explains the art of Russian blackmail

MOSCOW -- Neither of the people in the grainy video of a secret affair knew they were being filmed by a tiny camera hidden in the bedroom.

It shows Mikhail Kasyanov, a former Prime Minister who was openly critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Natalya Pelevina, his lover and a political activist.

CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer asks Pelevina what makes her so certain the Russian security services were responsible for recording the tryst.

“I just don’t imagine anyone else having the technical abilities to do this kind of complicated job.  It was an operation,” she tells Palmer.

By the time the video was leaked to national television, the camera had been removed and its hiding place in the wall patched up.

“When the film came out and the very first frame I saw, I saw myself... in that bedroom… everything became clear,” Pelevina tells CBS News. “I felt numb.”

The aim, she says, was to discredit her as she had challenged Putin.

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Natalya Pevelina is seen in a bedroom where she was caught on videotape, by what she believes to have been the Russian intelligence services, having an affair with a senior Russian politician.

Russians are familiar with this tactic. They call it “kompromat” an amalgamation of the Russian words “compromising material.”  It’s an old trick in the country, used  to ruin anyone who challenges the Kremlin and its vested interests.

Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who has worked in Russia as an oilman, says the values here -- particularly the way politics is played out -- are very different to those in the U.S. 

“I agree,” Pelevina tells CBS News. “In any other country, I would have sued the TV channel. I would have sued the secret service, even though it’s very hard to prove that they’re behind it, of course. Still, in a different country I would have done something about it.”

“In Russia,” Pelevina adds, “it’s impossible, and pointless.”

It could also be dangerous; against its opponents inside and outside the country, Pelevina says, Putin’s government plays hardball, and it plays according to its own rules.