The weekend’s brutal murder of the daughter of a well-known Russian ultranationalist has spawned a number of ideas about who might be involved as well as concerns that it could escalate Moscow’s conflict in Ukraine.
These worries were increased on Monday when, according to state media, the Russian FSB security agency claimed to have quickly solved the case and accused the Ukrainian secret services of killing Daria Dugina with a vehicle bomb outside of Moscow.
There was no concrete support for the assertion provided.
After the explosion late on Saturday, the nation’s most hawkish public figures hurried to blame Kiev and demand vengeance, despite the fact that Ukraine denied any involvement in the incident and that it would be, according to analysts.
The motive for the killing has been the subject of much speculation, but most hypotheses agree that her father Alexander Dugin, an outspoken war enthusiast who has been called Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “brain,” was the more likely victim.
NBC News examines Dugin’s background and possible implications of his daughter’s passing.
Alexander Dugin: who is he?
The 60-year-old ultranationalist, philosopher, writer, and ardent imperialist Alexander Dugin has pushed for the restoration of the Russian Empire. Additionally, he has ardently backed Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Dugin is not connected to the Kremlin in any way. He and his daughter have both received sanctions from the US for their destabilizing activities in Ukraine.
There is little evidence that he had significant influence over the Russian president’s thinking or his foreign policy, analysts told NBC News, despite the fact that he has frequently been referred to as “Putin’s brain.”
Keir Giles, a Russia expert and senior consultant fellow at the London think tank Chatham House, claims that while Dugin has espoused popular nationalistic notions about the nature of Russian power and how it should be exercised, he was not the fundamental inspiration for them.
Giles claimed that even if Dugin had not existed, President Putin would have shared this opinion.
Daria Dugina: Who is she?
Daria Dugin, who also goes by the alias Platonova, is the daughter of Dugin and has expressed views that are similar to those of her father and that are strongly in favor of the conflict in Ukraine.
The 29-year-old Dugina has made an appearance as a pundit on Russian state TV, despite being much less well-known than her father. In one of her final appearances, which aired last week on Channel One, she bemoaned what she called the West’s “zombie civilization” and its determination to go to war with Russia.
The United States Treasury stated Dugina was the chief editor of the United World International website, which implied that Ukraine would “perish” if it joined NATO, and sanctioned her in March.
Britain last month also imposed sanctions on Dugina, describing her as a “regular and high-profile provider of misinformation relating to Ukraine.”
Dugina was assassinated, according to Russian official media, while she was traveling home from the “Tradition” event of Russian culture, which she had attended with her father and at which he had spoken.
Who could have killed Dugina?
The attack was “planned and committed by Ukrainian special services,” according to the Russian security service FSB, who also claimed that a Ukrainian national was responsible, according to state media outlet Tass. According to the report, the suspected offender traveled to Russia a month earlier with her daughter, who is 12 years old, and escaped to Estonia after the explosion.
Given the Kremlin’s strict control over the media and history of using disinformation to achieve its interests at home and abroad, Western critics were sceptical of the charge when it was made public.
Prominent Kremlin propagandists and allies assigned Ukraine the responsibility almost soon following Dugina’s passing without providing any supporting documentation.
Denis Pushilin, the head of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine, claimed responsibility for the explosion on behalf of “terrorists of the Ukrainian regime,” and Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry, said that if true, “we need to talk about the policy of state terrorism implemented by the Kyiv regime.”
The accusations have not been verified by NBC News.
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s top advisor, Mykhailo Podolyak, rejected any involvement on behalf of his country and added that Ukraine “is not a criminal state, unlike Russia.” He speculated that it might be the outcome of an internal conflict.
Experts shared the same skepticism.
When referring to the Kremlin’s repression of internal dissent, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Moscow-based Russian political analyst Andrei Kolesnikov said, “Those responsible are either those who expect more aggressive actions in Ukraine from Putin, or those who want to provoke harsher repressions inside the country.”
That is, it’s more likely someone from the Russian secret service than the Ukrainians, he explained.
According to a former Russian politician, a previously unknown organization named the National Republican Army (NRA) unexpectedly emerged to take credit for the bombing on Sunday.
Ilya Ponomarev, an exiled member of the Russian opposition, read a message he said came from the group on Ukrainian television. Putin was referred to be “a usurper of authority” whose government needed to be overthrown.
NBC News contacted Ponomarev for comment after being unable to independently confirm the existence of the group or whether it was responsible for Dugina’s passing.
Giles referred to the sudden appearance of the group as “deeply suspicious,” implying that it is much more likely that Dugina’s death was caused by a Russian internal intrigue, possibly even something as mundane as a business dispute, similar to those that resulted in similar incidents in the chaotic aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union.
What possible impact could her death have on the conflict in Ukraine?
Due to the fact that Ukraine’s independence day, August 24, falls on the same day as the six-month anniversary of the war, Ukraine is preparing for a potential Russian escalation this week.
It also follows a rise in Ukrainian attacks that have been perceived as a strategic and symbolic setback to Putin’s military effort. These attacks have been occurring far behind Russian defense lines, including in Crimea that Russia has annexed.
Over the summer, Russia made progress in the eastern Donbas region, but it appears that its advance there has stalled. Meanwhile, Ukraine has been attempting to launch a counteroffensive against regions that Russian forces control in the southern part of the nation.
Giles claimed that killing Dugina in such a visible and violent way—or planning to kill her father—would be contrary to Ukraine’s aims. He stated that Ukraine had a great desire to maintain its reputation as the peaceful, non-resorting party to the conflict.
Whatever the motivations, Giles continued, “it does provide an excuse for Russia to engage in all manner of responses — whether domestically or against Ukraine.”
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