Catch up on this story now if you missed it yesterday since it may be a prelude to next-level ugliness in Ukraine — or Russia. Darya Dugina was the daughter of Alexander Dugin, a fascist ideologue and occultist crank celebrated by Russian nationalists for his defenses of imperialism. Dugina was an imperialist commentator in her own right but lesser-known than her father, which made it strange when she rather than he ended up dead in a car bombing a few nights ago while leaving a nationalist event. Observers assumed that Dugin, not Dugina, was the intended target, with some reports claiming that she was driving her father’s car. The prime suspect was naturally Ukrainian intelligence, supposedly exacting revenge on one of Russia’s chief apologists for a war of conquest that threatens to extinguish Ukrainian identity.
But is that a little too tidy?
Not for the FSB, which says it’s already blown the case wide open. In a statement to Russian media, they claim the bomber was a Ukrainian agent traveling with her daughter who’d rented an apartment in Moscow near Dugina’s and then followed Dugina and her father to the nationalist festival. Supposedly she planted the bomb and then she and her daughter headed straight for Estonia, a NATO country whose prime minister has coincidentally been one of Putin’s harshest critics since the war began. Per WaPo, the Estonian government also recently announced that it would remove Soviet-era monuments and would bar Russians from entering the country. The dastardly Ukrainians murdered Dugina and the dastardly NATO alliance facilitated it. All wrapped up in a bow.
Naturally, fascists are demanding revenge on not just Ukraine but Estonia:
Simonyan, on Dugina’s alleged killer ahiding in Estonia: “I think we’ll find some professionals who’ll want to have a look at the spires around Tallinn.”
Is this another case of Russia stridently denying responsibility for something, only to casually admit it years later? pic.twitter.com/kDQICEAviS
— Ilya Lozovsky (@ichbinilya) August 22, 2022
Dugin himself has placed the blame squarely on Ukraine, as he’s not one to pass up an opportunity to morally justify the further slaughter of Ukrainians. What do we think? Does the FSB have it right?
– The FSB is claiming Ukraine targeted Dugina, a relatively obscure media figure, and not her much better known father
– they are claiming to have solved this one awfully fast, especially when you consider how many murders of Putin opponents are still cold cases
— max seddon (@maxseddon) August 22, 2022
Kremlin-linked media is posting what they say is Natalya Vovk’s ID card, which identifies her as a member of the nationalist Azov regiment.
Not the most obvious thing to take with you when you plot a car bombing in Russia pic.twitter.com/RNlBlGxfv6
— max seddon (@maxseddon) August 22, 2022
The FSB publishes what it says is video of Vovk driving her Mini Cooper into Russia, entering Dugina’s apartment building, and leaving the country through Estonia.
Notable by its absence: any footage connecting Vovk with the car bombing. pic.twitter.com/cJUKQVR5c7
— max seddon (@maxseddon) August 22, 2022
“Blame it on Ukraine” makes more sense if Dugin rather than Dugina were the intended target. Dugina was small potatoes; it’d be silly for Ukraine to risk an operation deep inside Russia just to take her out. The fact that she was supposedly driving her father’s car makes it more likely that she was collateral damage in a hit that was aimed at him. But … what if the car she was driving was her own?
#Dugin assassination updates:
– Reports that surveillance cameras in the parking lot near the explosion had been disabled for last 2 weeks
– Car was owned by Daria, not Dugin
– Bomb was under driver’s seat
Looks like a professional hit and she may have been the target after all
— Dmitri Alperovitch (@DAlperovitch) August 21, 2022
I’ve read that Dugin and Dugina arrived at the event together (he opted to leave with someone else), which, if true, might still have made Dugin himself the target even if the car belonged to Dugina. The assassin presumably followed them there, saw that they were together, and assumed they would leave together. But rumors that Dugina was the target, not her father, are circulating:
If – and it’s a big IF – this is true, it could suggest that Dugina was actually the target, rather than her father. https://t.co/XLodSPRwNA
— Jimmy (@JimmySecUK) August 22, 2022
The problem with teasing out a suspect here is that we’re not just dealing with unreliable sources on all sides, we’re dealing with some of the least reliable sources on planet Earth. No one should believe a word the Kremlin says about anything. No one should rule out the possibility that Dugin and/or Dugina had made mortal enemies within the byzantine cutthroat culture of domestic Russian politics, especially nationalist politics. No one should trust the Ukrainians, who have every reason to lie about their involvement if in fact they were involved. No one should exclude Putin himself from ordering the hit, as he may have had motives of his own:
Last year, Dugan started chirping in ways that could be seen as anti-Putin. Exhibit A here below, would seem Dugin taking a dangerous populist streak against Kremlin pic.twitter.com/R7oo4ZMBL1
— Clint Watts (@selectedwisdom) August 21, 2022
A former Russian MP who was exiled from Russia for criticizing Putin and who now lives in Ukraine claimed last night that Dugina’s murder was the handiwork of a domestic resistance movement inside Russia.
“This action, like many other partisan actions carried out on the territory of Russia in recent months, was carried out by the National Republican Army (NRA),” [Ilya] Ponomarev said. He was speaking in a 7pm broadcast on February Morning, a Russian-language opposition TV channel he launched in Kyiv earlier this year.
He added: “A momentous event took place near Moscow last night. This attack opens a new page in Russian resistance to Putinism. New – but not the last.”…
The former deputy read what purported to be an NRA manifesto: “We declare President Putin a usurper of power and a war criminal who amended the Constitution, unleashed a fratricidal war between the Slavic peoples and sent Russian soldiers to certain and senseless death.
Ponomarev’s opposition to Putinism dates back years, to the point where he was the only MP to vote against the annexation of Crimea in 2014. I assume his report of a “National Republican Army” inside Russia is just an opportunistic bit of fiction he concocted to mess with Putin’s head and sow paranoia within Russian intelligence. But who knows? Via Cathy Young, one report has it that Dugina had “stolen money the Kremlin had allotted to finance the presidential campaign of Marine Le Pen in France” and this was the Kremlin’s revenge. (It’s curious that CCTV cameras at the event conveniently didn’t capture the planting of the bomb, eh?) A Russian journalist whom Young quotes suspects a darker motive, that Putin is planning some sort of “Great Terror” inside Russia and the assassinations of prominent figures will become the pretext he uses to justify it.
Mark Galeotti makes a point that I made yesterday too, that the murder of a well-known figure in the heart of Russia reflects badly on Putin’s regime no matter who’s responsible. That’s why it’s hard to believe that Putin himself was involved in it — the strongman looks sufficiently weak in Ukraine at the moment that he presumably wouldn’t want to be seen losing his grip on security at home as well.
Already, Russian commentators are blaming Kyiv, without explaining either why Dugin would be their target of choice – there are much more rabid and influential commentators on Ukraine – or how they managed to pull off an attack in the very heart of the Russian security state. Likewise, others assume this was a Kremlin hit, either because they wanted to make Dugin a symbolic martyr or else because they feared ultra-nationalists like him would stir up protest were Russia to step back from its war in Ukraine. Finally, there are the inevitable suggestions that this was actually a contract killing driven not by politics but by business disputes. Dugin is, after all, a phenomenally productive writer – never mind the quality – and an energetic self-promoter. In other words, there’s apparently a fair amount of money in his brand of splenetic and mystical nationalism…
Whether it reflects a serious failure of the Russian security state or tensions and rivalries within it, it will convince the nationalists – who may be less numerous and visible than Putin’s liberal critics, but tend to be within the security services and have, to be blunt, the guns – that this is a regime that is not living up to its own rhetoric and may be weaker than it looks.
Independence Day in Ukraine is two days away. Zelensky has already warned his constituents that Russia might try something especially brutal to mark the occasion. Dugina’s death and the FSB’s scapegoating of the Ukrainians makes a harsh response that much more likely. This week could be bad as Putin tries to demonstrate “strength” anew.